Cantor’s conflict of interest

Many of us got a good laugh at House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) expense a year ago, when we learned about his poor investment strategies. The oft-confused Republican invested $15,000 in a bet against U.S. government bonds, effectively expecting inflation to go up. That didn’t happen.

A year later, this is arguably even more interesting.

What do Bill Gross, Evan Newmark and Rep. Eric Cantor have in common? They’re all betting against Treasury debt!

But only one of these men has been involved in heated negotiations over the government’s debt ceiling, and that’s Eric Cantor, No. 2 Republican in the House.

Mr. Cantor, who walked out of debt discussions with Vice President Joe Biden last week, owns up to $15,000 in shares of the ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury ETF, Salon notes today, updating a Wall Street Journal report on this from last year.

Salon is raising a provocative point: Eric Cantor is helping drive debt-reduction talks. Indeed, as of last week, he was single-handedly derailing those talks. What went unreported at the time, though, is that Cantor personally stands to “reap a small financial windfall from his investment in a mutual fund whose performance is directly affected by debt ceiling brinkmanship.”

According to his latest financial disclosure statement, which covers the year 2010 and has been publicly available since this spring, Cantor still has up to $15,000 in the same fund. Contacted by Salon this week, Cantor’s office gave no indication that the Virginia Republican, who has played a leading role in the debt ceiling negotiations, has divested himself of these holdings since his last filing. Unless an agreement can be reached, the U.S. could begin defaulting on its debt payments on Aug. 2. If that happens and Cantor is still invested in the fund, the value of his holdings would skyrocket.

“If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, investors would start fleeing U.S. Treasuries,” said Matt Koppenheffer, who writes for the investment website the Motley Fool. “Yields would rise, prices would fall, and the Proshares ETF should do very well. It would spike.”

Cantor’s office claims the investment is simply part of a balanced portfolio. I have no evidence to the contrary. It’s hardly a stretch, though, to suggest prominent officials should avoid these kinds of conflicts of interest.