Does Teresa Heinz Trust John Kerry?

If not, why should we?

If Teresa Heinz won’t trust presidential candidate John Kerry with her money, why should American voters trust Kerry with their country?

Teresa Heinz and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., were married in 1995. Kerry’s assets at the time were a few million dollars. (Click here for Kerry’s Senate financial disclosure form for 1995.) Heinz’s assets at the time were reportedly around half a billion dollars, which she’d inherited from her late husband, Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., heir to the ketchup fortune. Unlike many other married couples, Heinz and Kerry kept their premarital assets separate. Much of Teresa Heinz’s inheritance was no doubt tied up in trusts, but a substantial sum must have been unencumbered, because she had Sen. Kerry sign a prenuptial agreement. “Everybody has a prenup,” Heinz explained to Lisa DiPaulo, who profiled her sympathetically in Elle.

You have to have a prenup. You’ve got three kids with somebody else, you’ve got to have a prenup. You could be as generous or as sensitive as you want. But you have to have a prenup.

By all accounts, Teresa Heinz had no interest in becoming first lady during her 25-year marriage to John Heinz (who died in a 1991 plane crash). “Over my dead body,” she told John. Apparently she spent the first seven years of her marriage to John Kerry telling him the same thing. According to a Nov. 30 profile by Maeve Reston in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “It was only last year that she says she changed her mind and told Kerry she would support his decision to run.”

This narrative acquired more than sentimental interest a couple of weeks ago after Kerry decided to follow Howard Dean’s lead and opt out of public financing for the Democratic primaries. Because Kerry has lost his early fundraising lead to Dean, he will have to dig into his own personal funds to finance his campaign. This will likely include borrowing against his assets and those he shares with his wife, who now goes by the name “Teresa Heinz Kerry,” which include their $10 million house on Boston’s fancy Louisberg Square. In addition, Heinz Kerry told Benjamin Weiser and Todd S. Purdum of the New York Times that she’d consider making independent expenditures on his behalf if she felt his opponents were attacking him unfairly. “I think that is a First Amendment right in America for me,” she told them. “I have that right. But that’s a serious thing to do. It has to be really legitimate.”

An independent expenditure campaign, though, would almost certainly violate federal campaign law. “Under the Federal Election Commission’s rules, you cannot have access to the candidate’s strategies and plans,” Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and chairman of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, explained to Chatterbox. The FEC defines “independent expenditure” as

an expenditure by a person for communication expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents.

In Heinz Kerry’s case, such an expenditure would be impossible to square with Glen Johnson’s observation in the Nov. 21 Boston Globe that Heinz Kerry “displayed an intimate knowledge not only of the inner workings of her husband’s campaign, but of the overall 2004 race.”

What if Heinz Kerry tore up her prenup and put Kerry’s name on all deeds, titles, and bank accounts permitted by the terms of her inheritance? Wouldn’t her money then be community property, and therefore Kerry’s own personal funds as well? “It’s too late,” Potter told Chatterbox. The FEC defines “personal funds” as

(1) Any assets which, under applicable state law, at the time he or she became a candidate [italics Chatterbox’s], the candidate had legal right of access to or control over, and with respect to which the candidate had either:(i)                 Legal and rightful title, or(ii)               An equitable interest.(2) Salary and other earned income from bona fide employment; dividends and proceeds from the sale of the candidate’s stocks or other investments; bequests to the candidate; income from trusts established before candidacy; income from trusts established by bequest after candidacy of which the candidate is the beneficiary; gifts of a personal nature which had been customarily received prior to candidacy [italics Chatterbox’s]; proceeds from lotteries and similar legal games of chance.

The only way Heinz Kerry could now give substantial money to Kerry’s campaign would be to tear up her prenup and kill herself.

This leads us to the inevitable question of whether these circumstances could have been foreseen by Teresa Heinz Kerry—if not when she married John Kerry, then anytime prior to his entry into the 2004 presidential race. Back then, she could have transferred assets for him to tap in his campaign. At the very least, she could have established a pattern of making substantial monetary “gifts of a personal nature” so that she could legally continue this practice after he became a candidate. But she didn’t. Even the prenup seems less than entirely necessary when you consider Heinz Kerry’s age—she’s 65—and the near-certainty that her children’s future prosperity is well protected by trust funds set up long before John Heinz’s death.  While it’s probably true that most very rich people prefer to draw up prenups before they marry, not all of them do. Paul McCartney, for instance, reportedly declined his second wife Heather Mills’ offer to sign one.

Teresa Heinz Kerry has often been portrayed in the press as a ditz, but in fact she is an extremely bright and accomplished woman. (Has any other candidate’s wife been asked to testify before Congress on pension policy?) It simply can’t have escaped her notice, when she married John Kerry, that he was going to run for president someday. It was obvious to Morley Safer thirty-two years ago, when he interviewed Kerry, then a prominent activist against the Vietnam war—in which Kerry had served—for 60 Minutes. (“Do you want to be president of the United States?” Safer asked. “No,” Kerry replied. “That’s such a crazy question when there are so many things to be done and I don’t know whether I could do them.”) To be sure, Kerry had every expectation, heading into the 2004 race, that he was going to lead the pack in fund raising, which he did for awhile. But Heinz Kerry has been around politics long enough to know that a presidential candidate can’t count on anything. And she had the example of George W. Bush’s nomination race in 2000 before her to show that presidential candidates don’t always stay within the limits imposed by public financing.

Heinz Kerry must have had some inkling that the day might come when her second husband would need her money. And knowing that, she didn’t make it available. That doesn’t make her a bad wife. But it does raise a disconcerting question for voters. If Teresa Heinz Kerry won’t give John Kerry the keys to the car, why should we?