WASHINGTON – Though John Kerry's wife is an heir to the H.J. Heinz Co. (search) fortune, the food company and its executives are providing President Bush with money and a campaign issue -- jobs flowing overseas -- in this year's election.
Members of the board of the Fortune 500 (search) company and its corporate political action committee have donated thousands of dollars to Republicans in recent years, including contributions to the Bush campaign. The corporate PAC has given nothing to Kerry.
The Republicans are accepting the cash even as they criticize the Pittsburgh-based company's job cuts and overseas moves -- part of an effort to taint the presumptive Democratic nominee with the conglomerate's business practices.
While Teresa Heinz Kerry (search) gained much of her $500 million portfolio through her Heinz inheritance, she does not serve on the board and is not involved with the management of the company. Even her late husband, Sen. H. John Heinz III, R-Pa., did not serve on the board.
No Heinz family member has been employed by the company or served on its board since H.J. "Jack" Heinz II, its chairman, died in 1987.
Heinz Kerry, who heads the separate Heinz Family Foundation (search) and the Howard Heinz Endowment (search), owns less than 4 percent of the company's stock. Major Heinz stockholders include the company's top executives, led by Chairman William R. Johnson, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and pro football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann as well as beer magnate Peter Coors (search), who is running for the Republican nomination for the Colorado Senate seat.
During the campaign, Kerry has criticized companies that move jobs overseas or shift their tax status abroad to avoid federal taxes, calling them "Benedict Arnold" businesses. He has faulted the Bush administration for embracing a tax policy that rewards them.
Republicans, in response, have pointed to the Kerrys' ties to Heinz, calling the four-term Massachusetts senator a hypocrite for slamming policies that have poured millions into his wife's bank account.
Stuck in what it fears is a food fight is the Heinz Co., which is trying desperately to keep the campaign out of its ketchup sales. In the last few months, the company -- which gets about 5,000 phone calls a month -- has fielded 800 calls from consumers with questions or complaints about the company's connections to Kerry, his wife and the campaign, said spokeswoman Debbie Foster.
A look at the company's campaign donations shows a preference for Republicans. In the past six years, the Heinz company's political action committee gave more than $64,000 to GOP candidates, nearly three times the amount given to Democrats. It contributed $5,000 to Bush's campaign. It has shunned the Kerry campaign, but the PAC gave $5,000 to the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
Johnson also put his money on the GOP, giving more than $20,000 to Republican congressional committees and candidates since 1999. Other board members have also contributed to Republicans, giving money to Bush's campaign and Pennsylvania's two Republican senators, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum.
Company spokesman Jack Kennedy said Heinz is nonpartisan and the PAC gives money to both parties. The heavy Republican totals, he said, may just be an indication of where corporate facilities are located.
Determined to make clear that it is not connected to the Kerry campaign, the Heinz company has issued statements about the relationship. "We want to make sure people buy our products on their merit. We're an equal-opportunity condiment," Kennedy said.
According to Kerry's financial disclosure report filed last May, Heinz Kerry owns more than $4 million worth of company stock. Heinz Kerry sold more than $14.8 million worth of Heinz stock in 2002.
"No, they don't run the company, but they still own a lot of stock. And Teresa has had a long relationship with the company," said James Glassman, a columnist and economic analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (search) in Washington, D.C. "I think it's absolutely legitimate to point to Heinz and say here's a company with a close association with Kerry that is doing exactly the thing Kerry is condemning."
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said the GOP is not going after the Heinz Co. but "will continue to point out John Kerry's hypocrisy when his record on the issues does not match his rhetoric."
Last month, the RNC issued a lengthy critique of the Heinz company, detailing hundreds of layoffs and plant closings in five states over the past nine years and pointing out jobs it created in other countries.
The multibillion-dollar Heinz Co. has about 38,900 workers worldwide, with 30 percent located in 27 factories scattered across 17 states. The other 70 percent work in facilities overseas.
About 60 percent of the company's sales are outside America, and the products sold in other countries are often made and marketed locally and in some cases are unique to that region. Tomatoes for ketchup sold in the United States are grown largely in the regions surrounding the major processing plants in Ohio, Iowa and California.
Besides its name brands, Heinz also makes and markets OreIda potatoes, Smart Ones frozen foods and Classico sauces. The company has 50 affiliates operating in 200 countries.