Former Speaker of the House–and current Minority Leader–Nancy Pelosi apparently bought $1 million to $5 million of Visa stock in one of the most sought-after and profitable initial public offerings (IPO) in American history, thwarted serious credit card reform for two years, and then watched her investment skyrocket 203%.
The revelation appears in Throw Them All Out, the new book by investigative journalist and Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, which was the focus of 60 Minutes on CBS this evening, and which is featured in this week’s issue of Newsweek.
Schweizer’s investigation of Pelosi and other members of Congress–from both parties–raises a critical question: should it be legal for lawmakers to buy stocks in companies directly affected by their legislative efforts?
In early 2008, Nancy Pelosi and her real estate developer husband, Paul, were given an opportunity to buy into a Visa IPO. It was a nearly impossible feat–one that average citizens almost certainly could never achieve. The vast majority of purchase opportunities went to institutional investors, large mutual funds, or pension funds.
Despite Pelosi’s consistent railing against credit card companies, on March 18, 2008, the Pelosis bought between $1 million and $5 million (politicians do not have to report the exact amounts, only ranges) worth of Visa stock at the IPO price of $44 per share. Two days later, the stock price rocketed to $65 per share, yielding a 50% profit. The Pelosis then bought Visa twice more. By their third purchase on June 4, 2008, Visa was worth $85 per share.
How did Nancy Pelosi snag one of the most coveted initial public offerings in history? The facts are still emerging. Yet according to Schweizer, corporations that wish to build congressional allies will sometimes hand-pick members of Congress to receive IPOs. Pelosi received her Visa IPO almost two weeks after a potentially damaging piece of legislation for Visa, the Credit Card Fair Fee Act, had been introduced in the House. If passed, the bill would have cut into Visa’s profits substantially by lowering so-called “interchange fees,” the 1% to 3% charge retailers pay Visa when customers use Visa cards for purchases. Interchange fees are a critical source of revenue for the four credit card companies–$48 billion in 2008, to be exact.
If the Credit Card Fair Fee Act had been passed into effect, it would have amended antitrust laws to require credit card companies to enter negotiations with merchants over interchange fees, and it would have given the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission the power to arbitrate if the two sides failed to come to an agreement. For that reason, Visa and the other credit card companies strongly opposed the bill.
The Credit Card Fair Fee Act was exactly the kind of bill one would think then-Speaker Pelosi would have backed. “She had been outspoken about antitrust problems posed by insurance, oil, and pharmaceutical companies,” Schweizer notes, “and she was vocal about the need for controlling interest rates individual banks charged to use their credit cards.”
Initially, the Credit Card Fair Fee Act cleared the Judiciary Committee on a 19-16 vote, and the National Association of Convenience Stores began lobbying for a vote on the floor of the House. “It is imperative to tell your Representatives to request a vote on the House Floor from Nancy Pelosi,” the association urged its members. Still, with at least ten percent of the Pelosi family’s entire stock portfolio invested in a single stock, Nancy Pelosi clearly had a vested interest in ensuring that Visa’s profits were protected. And that is exactly what she accomplished. Despite broad public support for the bill—77% in one study—Pelosi saw to it that the bill never made it to the House floor.
Shortly thereafter, a second bill limiting collusion by the credit card companies on interchange fees was proposed. The Credit Card Interchange Fee Act of 2008, while not as strong as the first bill, would have required greater transparency from credit card companies in informing customers how much they were paying in interchange fees. Yet again, reports Schweizer, “this second bill suffered the same fate as the first, never making it to the House floor.”
By 2009, both bills had garnered even broader bipartisan support and were reintroduced. Under Speaker Pelosi, however, neither bill lived to see a vote on the House floor.
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