Jeff Bingaman, the five-term Democratic senator from New Mexico, entered “legacy time” Tuesday. That’s the traditional home stretch when conniving politicians magically morph into noble statesmen just before they retire.
Bingaman was sly about it. While chairing his Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introducing a panel of experts in a hearing supposedly about new oil and gas technology, he incongruously resurrected two of his old drilling bills with nice names and nasty restrictions — both of which fizzled in the last congressional session — and asked for fast action on them. It smelled like legacy time, but why two oil bills?
When Bingaman announced in February that he would not seek re-election, he had achieved much that was notable in the Senate. He was the master of disastrous legislation that sounded good on the evening news, and bearer of much pork back home. During 2008-2010, he sponsored 47 solo earmarks worth $36 million and supported 442 co-sponsored earmarks worth $973 million.
He still wields real power in plum committee assignments — chairman of Energy and Natural Resources, member of the Finance Committee; the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; and the Joint Committee on the Economy.
What more could he want? Well, to be blunt — money.
Bingaman’s financial disclosure reports show a man who entered the Senate in 1983 considerably less than a millionaire, inherited a Texaco oil and gas well in Gregg County, Texas, worth all of $15,000, and yet is retiring with investments worth $7 million to $20 million, and possibly as much as $50 million.
The range is so wide because federal disclosure law frustratingly requires reporting investments only in nearly meaningless categories, like $6 million to $25 million, hiding even the approximate value of any asset or debt.
Last year, Roll Call ranked Bingaman the 40th richest of the 535 members of Congress and remarked that the investment portfolio of the senator and his wife, Anne, was unusually active, “racking up nearly 600 separate purchases and sales of stock in 2009, worth a combined total of more than $20 million” — not counting their book of untraded stocks.
Bingaman, the chair of Energy and Natural Resources, owns substantial stock in General Electric and Arch Coal; oil companies like Occidental, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Concho Resources; and mining giants Freeport McMoran and Barrick Gold.
Bingaman, the Finance Committee member, also owns stock in Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and many more.
And Bingaman, the member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, owns stock in pharmaceuticals like Merck, Abbott Laboratories, startup research labs and many more.
One of those legacy bills Bingaman reintroduced Tuesday would boost chances for the long-delayed Alaska Gas Pipeline with $30 billion in tax dollars. Think of all the publicly traded pipeline companies it would take to spend all that.
Examiner contributor Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.