After ripping Peters, Land cuts ties to firm

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
  • Land sold a mutual fund that holds stock in Total SA because of its past bribes of Iranian officials
  • Land argues Peters hypocritical for owning Total stock while criticizing pet coke, which firm makes.
  • Peters campaign counters Land is hypocritical for having owned Total stock in mutual fund.
  • "Congressman Peters should join Terri and divest from Total SA," Land spokeswoman said.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has sold her shares in a mutual fund that invests in an oil company she has lambasted Democratic opponent Gary Peters for owning direct stock in.

Land's divestment from Total SA came after a month of bashing Peters for owning stock in the French oil company that produces petroleum coke, an oil refining byproduct that the Democratic congressman opposed as a health risk when piles of it were previously stored near the Detroit River. The Land investment revelation prompted counter-charges of hypocrisy from Democrats.

"It's stunningly hypocritical," said Joe DiSano, a Democratic political consultant not working for Peters.

An independent political expert said the development could be a distraction.

"It's a little curious that she would wait this long to divest because it takes away from her message," said David Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University. "It could get her off message, and that's never where a candidate wants to be."

But "the fact it was in the press release from the Land campaign tells us they still think it's a political winner."

Last week, Land divested herself of a Wells Fargo mutual fund that holds stock in Total SA because of the energy company's past bribes of Iranian officials to gain access to Iran's oil fields, Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said.

"Terri Lynn Land divested from a mutual fund after she learned about Total SA's ties to Iran," Swift said in an email to The Detroit News.

Land, who has assets worth at least $32 million, owned between $15,001 and $50,000 of shares in the Well Fargo Absolute Return Class C mutual fund that netted her between $201 and $1,000 in profits last year, according to her financial disclosure statement filed with the U.S. Senate.

DiSano said Land should have divested from the company before launching a TV ad blitz blasting Peters for owning shares of the same oil company.

"She got her hand caught in the cookie jar," DiSano said.

Land's campaign said her mutual fund ownership of the oil company was different because Peters made a personal investment in a sector of the economy that he often criticizes as a politician.

"Terri's not running around claiming to be the darling of the environmental movement and has all these hypocritical investments," Swift said.

Peters urged to divest

On Tuesday, the Land campaign divulged Land's mutual fund divestment when it called on Peters to sell his stock in Total. The Wells Fargo mutual fund's portfolio includes about 900,000 shares of Total stock, according to the investment research firm Morningstar Inc.

"Congressman Peters should join Terri and divest from Total SA or, at a minimum, stop talking out of both sides of his mouth," Swift said in a statement.

For the past two weeks, Land has been airing TV ads accusing Peters of profiting from pollution for owning about $19,000 in Total stock because the global energy giant produces petroleum coke at an oil refinery in Texas. Peters has been an outspoken critic of pet coke previously stored in Detroit but not produced by Total.

After spending the summer being dogged by questions about her personal finances, Land and her allies have been trying to define Peters in recent week as a hypocritical Washington politician.

"Terri Lynn Land is so desperate to prop up her floundering campaign, she just invited another personal finance controversy," Peters spokeswoman Haley Morris said in a statement.

The Detroit-based pet coke piles, which have been removed, were owned by a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the business empire of billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Personal investments have been heavily scrutinized by both parties in the Senate and governor's races.

The Michigan Republican Party recently lambasted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer for owning a mutual fund while in Congress that invests in multinational companies that manufacture goods overseas. Schauer has railed against Gov. Rick Snyder's business tax policies, saying it's too soft on companies that outsource jobs to foreign countries.

Poll shows tightened race

In the hotly contested U.S. Senate race,Peters and Land had to publicly disclose their personal investments, which both candidates have used to define their opponent.

Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, two out-of-state groups funded in part by the Koch brothers, spent $5.1 million through Labor Day on TV ads attacking Peters' record in Congress, according to spending data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

"It goes to show (that) Land and her special interest allies like the Koch brothers have no credibility when their agenda is to give multimillionaires like themselves new tax breaks at the expense of our middle class," Morris said.

The Land campaign did not answer questions from The News about how much Land's Well Fargo mutual fund was worth.

Peters recently told The Detroit News he has no plans of selling his stock in Total and that Land is seeking to distract voters from the Koch brothers' support of her campaign.

"It is an investment in the fourth largest oil company in the world," Peters said in a Sept. 13 interview. "It has nothing to do with the Detroit situation."

Peters earned between $201 and $1,000 in dividends from his Total stock, according to his 2013 financial disclosure on file with the U.S. House of Representatives.

A Rasmussen Reports statewide poll of 750 likely voters released Tuesday showed the race has tightened, with Peters holding a narrow lead over Land, 41 percent to 39 percent, which is within the survey's margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Rasmussen Reports now ranks the race as a "toss up," as does the Cook Political Report.

Other political handicappers favor Peters to win. The Rothenberg Political Report, Real Clear Politics and the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato each say the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit will likely remain in the Democratic column.