Haslam shaped stock portfolio for governor run

NASHVILLE - As his campaign for governor geared up in 2009, Republican Bill Haslam sold off investments in a number of companies that might have proved controversial, his state ethics disclosure shows.

The multimillionaire Knoxville mayor sold stocks of U.S. tobacco giants Lorillard Inc. and Philip Morris International, several oil companies, Canadian payday loan company Cash Store Finance Services Inc. and Amazon, the Internet retailer that refuses to collect sales taxes from customers on behalf of states such as Tennessee.

He also got rid of investments in two major state contractors, CVS Caremark, which manages state pharmacy benefits, and United Health Group, which owns TennCare contractor AmeriChoice.

GOP primary rivals and Democratic nominee Mike McWherter have pummeled Haslam over his unspecified holdings in his family's Pilot Corp., the majority owner of the nation's largest truck stop chain.

A June 3 Disclosure of Interests report filed with the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance gives more detail about his holdings.

It shows Haslam has investments of at least $10,000, or stakes of 5 percent or more, in 247 companies or investment vehicles besides Pilot, giving him a minimum portfolio of $2.47 million.

He also lists 239 sources from which he derived at least $1,000 in income. This category includes investments he sold in 2009 and many he still owns, according to the campaign.

Haslam's campaign has released figures showing he earned an average $4.7 million a year from 2003 to 2008 from investments and interest. That doesn't include his Pilot income, which he refuses to disclose.

In an interview, Haslam said he has left most of his investments to three money managers for years. He said he has paid scant attention to individual stocks, instead focusing on overall performance.

"Ultimately, they're my investments and I'm responsible," Haslam said. "But ... it's been a long, long time since I picked an individual stock."

But once he decided to run, he decided to shed holdings in companies doing business with the state "because [if] you're going to be commenting on things, it didn't feel right for us," Haslam said. "So I said let's go ahead and try to do the research and find everybody who had a state contract" and divest.

"I can't tell you we got everything, but I think we did. I know we made an effort."

Haslam was less clear about why he sold investments in some of the other companies, such as Lorillard and Phillip Morris.

In an e-mail, Haslam campaign spokesman David Smith said "most decisions are made by account managers, but after a review of his holdings the mayor wanted to divest himself of some interests to avoid perceived conflicts or distractions, an example of the integrity with which he handles such situations."

Smith declined to specify the extent of Haslam's holdings in any of the companies that he sold or still owns.

Dr. Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the holdings Haslam discarded "all sound like they're investments that might raise questions in the minds of some voters."

For example, he said, while Tennessee has a good number of tobacco farmers, "at the other end there's a large number of people who are against smoking, who see it as a health problem."

As for Amazon, Wilson said, the company's refusal to collect sales taxes "to my mind would be a major liability because the state needs all the tax revenue it can get." Tennessee gets 58 percent of its revenue from sales taxes, state figures show.

Haslam owns investments in several companies that are regulated by the state or that have interests routinely decided by the state. Those include cable giant Comcast, which this year went to the General Assembly to stop Chattanooga's municipal electric service, EPB, from expanding Internet and cable offerings outside its service area.

Haslam has investments in Strayer Education Inc., which operates for-profit colleges in Tennessee and is overseen by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He also has invested in Verizon, which has cases before the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, some of whose members are appointed by the governor.

Haslam's disclosure shows he has holdings in three insurance companies; Travelers, Chubb and Old Republic. All three do business in Tennessee, according to a state Department of Commerce and Insurance website.

Cash Store Finance Services, according to a Dec. 2, 2008, company news release, settled a class-action lawsuit out of Ontario concerning its brokerage fees and interest charged.

Haslam also owns stock in Rent-A-Center, a national rent-to-own company that has been sued in several states over its charges or collection tactics.

Haslam repeated his intention to put all of his non-Pilot holdings into a blind trust.

"Even though it's blind, we don't want to have anything that has a state contract or anything," Haslam said.

He said when it comes to state-regulated companies, "you have to have a decision on how far down that road you want to go. ... As much as possible, anything a governor could have influence over, we don't want to own."

Pilot is a majority stakeholder in Pilot Travel Centers LLC, which had revenues of $16 billion in 2008. In Tennessee, Pilot truck stops sell beer, lottery tickets and cigarettes.

Haslam has said the public knows about Pilot's business and only his opponent and news media show interest in the subject.

Asked about Haslam's non-Pilot investments, McWherter said, "I don't have a lot of criticism as long as he directly discloses."

But McWherter, who owns a beer distributorship, continued to criticize Haslam over Pilot.

"I don't know how you write an article about his (Haslam's disclosure) if you don't know what Pilot is involved in," said McWherter. "Pilot Oil, that's what he's not disclosing, and obviously that's for a reason."

In a new campaign ad, McWherter criticizes Pilot for getting some of its gasoline from "socialist" Venezuela.

Haslam, who has been criticized as an "oilman" by his former GOP rivals such as Zach Wamp, sold off investments in BP in 2009, before the disastrous oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. He also sold holdings in Occidental Petroleum Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and Southwestern Energy.