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1996 | 06 | 18 | Articles | The Wall Street Journal | Politics
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The Wall Street Journal
June 18, 1996
Lawmakers Keep Earning Quick Profits on IPOs
By PHIL KUNTZ and GLENN R. SIMPSON
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON — Despite controversy in recent years over members of Congress earning quick profits on hard-to-get new stocks, one senator and two representatives reported thousands of dollars in gains on initial-public-offering trades last year.

Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Democratic Rep. John LaFalce of New York and the husband of Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California each made at least $5,000 on hot IPOs since last year, sometimes by buying and selling the same day. The wives of two other Democratic congressmen — Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Peter Deutsch of Florida — invested in IPO stocks but still hold them.

All deny receiving special treatment from their brokers, who usually reserve IPO stocks for their best customers or other favored clients. The lawmakers reported the trades on annual financial disclosure statements released last week.

Some Lawmakers Swear Off IPOs

Initial public offerings are as close to a sure thing as the stock market offers for those who get in early on the right deals and sell on the same day because the price often rises sharply as soon as the stock begins trading. Several lawmakers in the past few years have sworn off such trades after news reports disclosed lawmakers" profits, including former Democratic House Speaker Thomas Foley and GOP Sen. Alfonse D’Amato of New York. They ceased trading in IPOs after critics suggested that their stock profits appeared to be, in effect, gifts from people with stakes in pending governmental matters who might want to curry their favor.

A recently released Securities and Exchange Commission report on Sen. D’Amato’s one-day $37,125 profit questioned the motives of his brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont Inc. of Lake Success, N.Y. Stratton at the time was the subject of a major SEC enforcement action.

Sen. Thompson had just opened his account with his Nashville broker at J.C. Bradford Co., when he took home a one-day profit of $7,700 on an investment of about $15,000 in IPO shares of Cybex Corp., a Huntsville, Ala., electronics maker.

Sen. Thompson’s press secretary, Alexandra Pratt, pointed out that the senator "had his share of gains and losses," including one trade in which he lost $3,000. The Tennessee Republican also authorized his broker, Paul "Buddy" Enoch, to discuss the matter on his behalf.

It was through Mr. Enoch that Sen. Thompson obtained the hot investment. The stock was "way oversubscribed," according to Cybex spokesman Stephen Thornton, meaning that most investors couldn’t buy shares before it went to market. Sen. Thompson didn’t report the profit on his financial disclosure form. When The Wall Street Journal questioned the apparent oversight last Friday, Mr. Thompson filed an amendment.

Mr. Enoch says he invested Mr. Thompson in another successful IPO this spring, Premier Technology. Sen. Thompson flipped 500 shares of that stock for a profit of about $3,300. Mr. Enoch says he gives many of his other clients access to initial public offerings. Sen. Thompson, he adds, happened to have a large sum of ready cash in his account when the two stocks went public.

IPOs Spread Around

Typically, hot IPOs go to wealthy investors. And despite his long and successful careers in law and acting, Sen. Thompson has relatively modest means. His federal financial disclosure form indicates that his net worth, excluding his home, is less than $615,000 and could be as low as $200,000. His brokerage account, which Mr. Enoch calls "medium size," appears to be worth considerably less than $100,000.

Mr. Enoch, however, said he spreads his IPO shares around to all of his clients. The senator "wasn’t treated differently than anyone else," he says. Mr. Enoch says Sen. Thompson came to him on someone else’s recommendation, but he doesn’t know whose.

Sen. Thompson has received campaign contributions from J.C. Bradford executives, including Mr. Enoch. In his 1994 campaign, 11 officials of the firm contributed a total of $6,100. Over the last two years, another $15,750 was given by Bradford officials. A Nashville-based lobbyist who counts the firm among his clients, Thomas Ingram, was a consultant to Sen. Thompson’s 1994 campaign.

Sophisticated Trading

The financial disclosures of the other members who traded in IPOs suggest fairly active and sophisticated trading. For example, Rep. Pelosi, one of Congress’s wealthier members, reported more trades in new stocks than any other member. All seven were listed in the name of her husband, San Francisco businessman Paul Pelosi. The trades included some of last year’s hottest IPOs, such as the Internet-related companies Netscape Communications Inc. and UUNet Technologies Inc.; both doubled in value within a day. Mr. Pelosi bought and sold between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of each within a day of the offering. He bought like amounts of stock in four other companies — Remedy Corp., Opal Inc., Legato Systems Inc. and Act Networks Inc. — right around the time of their initial offering and then sold within a month or two. He reported buying Vanguard Airlines stock around the time of its initial offering and still owned it at the end of the year.

Most if not all of Mr. Pelosi’s trades appear to have been profitable. Rep. Pelosi couldn’t be reached to comment.

Rep. LaFalce, the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, bought $15,000 worth of IPO stock in Healthplan Services Corp., which specializes in providing health-care administrative services to small companies. The company says there were five times as many orders for the stock as there were shares for sale. Rep. LaFalce reported making between $5,000 and $15,000 when he sold it three months later. Through a spokesman, the congressman says he is an active trader who was given access to the IPO through his broker, whom he declined to name.

The wives of Reps. Deutsch and Doggett invested at least $1,000 in Food Court Entertainment Networks Inc., and Schlotzksy’s Inc., respectively. Both say their brokers gave them access to the deals but treated them just as they do other clients.

– Stewart Ugelow and Tara Arden-Smith contributed to this article.