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Kerry’s Wife Would Keep Her Philanthropic Role

Times Staff Writer

If Teresa Heinz Kerry becomes first lady, she plans to oversee one of the nation’s significant nonprofit empires from the White House -- acting on a diverse agenda that involves cultural, environmental, economic and educational programs.

Heinz Kerry’s plan to continue her philanthropic work if Sen. John F. Kerry is elected president could be the source of political headaches, some analysts say.

The 65-year-old heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune oversees three charitable organizations with combined assets of $1.3 billion and as many as 10 private trusts that may hold an additional half a billion dollars, according to a review of Internal Revenue Service nonprofit returns, Senate financial disclosures and records at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The family fortune and philanthropic enterprises have been largely undiluted for 100 years. Heinz Kerry inherited control in 1991 after her first husband, Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), died in an aircraft accident that took the lives of seven people.

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Since then, philanthropy has become her full-time work. She supports environmental causes, women’s issues, community development in Pennsylvania, education programs and the arts. The Heinz name looms large over downtown Pittsburgh, having funded parks, concert halls and other civic projects. She hands out awards to scientists, politicians, environmentalists and others, sometimes giving large sums of money, as well.

If Heinz Kerry finds herself living in the White House next year and continues to set the agenda for the foundations, it would set a precedent not only for the role of a first lady, but potentially in the public influence exerted by increasingly powerful nonprofit organizations.

Political observers are dubious that she could actually maintain her current role in the White House. Her actions could create political baggage for a Kerry presidency, they say. Although much of her work is widely admired, a portion involves controversial public policy. Heinz charities, for example, have helped environmental groups file lawsuits against electric utilities and government agencies.

Heinz Kerry was not available for comment on her philanthropic activity, a spokeswoman said.

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However, Heinz Kerry’s circle of foundation experts have argued that the charitable work is nonpartisan, avoids any fringe causes and is mainly aimed at finding market-based solutions to social problems. But political analysts say none of that will matter.

“It is a lot more complicated than saying it is nonpartisan,” said Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution. “The work may be nonpartisan in a sense that it doesn’t have a party label, but it has causes that can have consequences for the president. Assuming she becomes first lady, she may change her mind.”

Stan Brand, a Washington attorney and government ethics expert, said no formal laws defined or restricted a first lady’s role, but that the job was subject to customs and practices that had a long history.

“If she were to become a lightning rod, it could be a problem for the president,” Brand said. “Then she would have to scale back her role.

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“Washington has forced people to make harder decisions than that in the past,” he added. “Washington is a brutal place and people are subject to incredible scrutiny. They don’t understand what it is like at the center of such scrutiny. And once they are in it, they change. That is the reality of the political system.”

Nonetheless, Heinz Kerry is powerful and independent. Born a Portuguese citizen in the African colony of Mozambique, she wed John Heinz in 1965, and they raised three sons, all now adults. Her charitable work reflects a strong dedication to her roots in Pittsburgh, her membership in the Heinz family and the causes of her late husband.

Indeed, Heinz Kerry is still a legal resident of Pittsburgh and changed her party affiliation to Democratic only last year, eight years after marrying Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, according to Jeff Lewis, chief of staff at the Heinz Family Office in Washington, D.C., which manages the family’s affairs.

Lewis and Maxwell King, president of the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, defended her plan to continue operating her charitable work.

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“I don’t see why a first lady who has a well-articulated body of work, as Teresa Heinz does, should have to give that body of work up,” said King, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who joined the Heinz team five years ago. “I hope she would be able to continue and still fulfill all of her obligations as first lady.”

Making Changes

Still, Heinz Kerry has recognized that Kerry’s presidential campaign is going to force her to make some changes, and she has taken a few steps toward separating from certain activities.

She has suspended her membership on the board of Environmental Defense, a group she has helped fund. She has also suspended her board membership at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization she set up after her late husband’s death. But in many other areas, she is continuing her involvement, including her board position with the Brookings Institution.

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Heinz Kerry’s most important work involves the three charitable organizations bearing the Heinz family name. If they were combined into a single corporation, they would rank within the top 30 nonprofit foundations. She chairs the largest, the Pittsburgh-based Howard Heinz Endowment, which reported total assets of $789 million in 2002. She is also a board member of the closely related Vira I. Heinz Endowment, which reported total assets of $401 million in 2002. (Howard was Sen. Heinz’s grandfather; Vira his great aunt.)

Heinz Kerry also chairs the Heinz Family Philanthropies, which is not a formal organization but a group of activities run out of the Heinz Family Office. The group includes the Heinz Family Foundation, a registered tax-exempt private foundation with total assets of $62 million.

The group also includes two other foundations bearing the Heinz name, but not registered as tax-exempt corporations. The foundations are the H. John Heinz III Foundation and the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation. Because they are not registered nonprofit corporations, little is disclosed about their activities or how they are funded.

The Heinz fortune has remained largely intact through four generations. Sen. Heinz was an only child, and his father had only one sibling who met an early death. The previous generations had similarly lean families. All of the Heinz money appears to have ended up in either the foundations or with Teresa Heinz Kerry.

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When Sen. Heinz died, probate records in Pittsburgh, which would have disclosed much about the family’s money and the strings attached to it, were sealed.

The unregistered foundations appear to be funded by the private trusts set up by the Heinz family. Heinz spokesmen say the family does not discuss the trusts or their organization. Some of the trusts’ names and holdings, however, were disclosed in a 1995 filing by the H.J. Heinz Co. when the endowments decided to sell much of their company stock.

The SEC filing, known as a 13D, showed that Heinz Kerry had control of 10 family trusts -- separate from the foundations and endowments -- that held about 9.8 million shares of Heinz Corp. The shares were not part of the sale and today are worth an estimated $462 million, though it is not known if the family still holds them.

Heinz Kerry has many assets that make it difficult to estimate her personal wealth.

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For example, she owns four homes around the nation and shares ownership of a Boston mansion with Kerry. The five homes have a total assessed value of $33 million. Allegheny County property records show she owns a 90-acre estate in Pittsburgh, still registered under her and her late husband’s name.

Kerry’s last Senate disclosure lists dozens of pages of stock and bond holdings, most of which are apparently owned solely by his wife. The disclosure does not separate the ownership.

A Heinz Kerry spokeswoman declined to discuss the financial arrangements of the marriage, but it was widely assumed that there was a prenuptial agreement that kept the spouses’ money separate. Since her money is held separately, Heinz Kerry cannot donate more than $2,000 to Kerry’s campaign, the same limit imposed on any other individual donor. As a result, Kerry took a $6-million loan on their Boston house last year to help finance his campaign.

Heinz Kerry is known in Pittsburgh for her loyalty to the causes of her late husband and her ability to find creative ways to meet social needs. Heinz money paid for the city’s symphony hall, a design competition for a convention center, and the cleanup of abandoned steel mills that long blighted the downtown riverfront, according to the city’s Democratic mayor, Tom Murphy.

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“We have miles and miles of riverfront parks paid by the Heinz endowment,” Murphy said in a recent interview. “The last 170-acre steel mill site, the LTV coke ovens, was bought by Heinz.”

Murphy said he had met with Heinz Kerry regularly through the last decade, when she funded $6 million to $7 million of projects within the city, not including the funding to state and national groups that focused on environmental issues in Pennsylvania.

The funding she provided to environmental organizations has helped clean up the foul air and dirty water in heavily industrialized western Pennsylvania, Murphy said.

“The best bass fishing in Pennsylvania is now in downtown Pittsburgh,” Murphy said, referring to the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. “Thirty years ago, nothing could live in those rivers.”

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Among the key environmental groups that Heinz Kerry supports is the Clean Air Task Force, a low-profile Boston group that gets 10% of its funding from her. It has half a dozen scientists on staff capable of “going toe-to-toe” with utility industry experts in emission disputes, according to executive director Armond Cohen.

The task force targets Midwestern utility emissions, some of which eventually blow over Pittsburgh and contribute to dirty air and acid rain. Among its many activities, the group recently sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to identify counties that are not meeting federal smog standards.

Cohen said that Heinz Kerry’s support was “nonpartisan.”

Already a Target

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Still, bankrolling lawsuits against the federal government would be an unusual role for a first lady. Such activity by Heinz Kerry has already become a target for conservative groups such as Capital Research Center, a Washington-based organization that examines the spending of nonprofit foundations.

The group has tried to link Heinz Kerry to fringe environmental causes. It points to her contributions to the Tides Center, a San Francisco nonprofit organization that has provided bookkeeping and other back-office support for smaller groups that she supports. Separately, Tides also runs its own foundation that supports anti-globalization causes; the Heinz groups do not support such agendas.

The allegations that tie Heinz Kerry to anti-globalization protests miss the mark, said King, the endowments chief.

“These little-minded and uninformed people keep attacking us,” he said.

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But a member of the Heinz board takes a more cautious approach, saying in an interview on condition of anonymity that the association with Tides will be reconsidered. “We have to make sure there aren’t any appearance issues,” the board member said.

Heinz Kerry’s support of other groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, also rankles her critics. The league is the political nexus of the environmental movement, with a board of directors that reaches deep into the nation’s famous or wealthy elite. The directors include such names as Theodore Roosevelt IV, Rampa Hormel and Marie Ridder.

Many of them are Kerry supporters, as is league President Deb Callahan. Between 1993 and 2003, the Heinz Family Foundation contributed $55,000 to the organization, Callahan said in an interview. It was not because of that support, but because of Kerry’s record on environmental legislation, that the league gave Kerry an early endorsement in January.

“He had the strongest environmental record in the field of candidates,” Callahan said.

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But Ron Arnold, a critic of the environmental movement who has written several books on abuses of power under the green cause, has said the endorsement reflected Heinz Kerry’s financial support of the league and demonstrated the way she would use her money to pull strings outside official channels.

“This is very Machiavellian,” Arnold said.

The tempest involving Heinz Kerry’s support of environmental causes illustrates, experts say, the very problem that her philanthropic work could cause Kerry if he reaches the White House.

“She may recognize that it is wiser to turn it over to some other group or to her children,” said Hess, the political analyst.

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