06/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

McCain Econ Adviser Sold Bizarre "Death Bonds"

For weeks now, John McCain's presidential campaign has faced awkward questions about the outside activities of several top advisers. Add one more name to the list: former Texas senator Phil Gramm, McCain's longtime friend and one of his five campaign co-chairs. (A sixth, former congressman Tom Loeffler, quit recently after NEWSWEEK reported on his lobbying work for Saudi Arabia.) According to McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker, the co-chair position affords Gramm "broad input into the structure, financing and conduct of the campaign." She added that Gramm, who has a doctorate in economics, is also "a valued voice on economic policy." Gramm is not a paid McCain adviser, but his day job--vice chairman of a U.S. division of Zurich-based financial giant UBS--could pose new tests for a candidate who has promised high ethics standards and ditched advisers who failed to meet them. ...

McCain's campaign is already distancing itself from some of Gramm's other work for UBS: his involvement in attempts to sell financial products known as "death bonds," which BusinessWeek described last summer as one of "the most macabre investment scheme[s] ever devised by Wall Street." Not long after joining UBS, the Houston Chronicle reported, Gramm helped lobby Texas officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, to sign on to a UBS proposal in which revenue would be generated for a state teachers' retirement fund by selling bonds, whose proceeds would in turn be used to buy annuities and life-insurance policies on retired teachers. UBS would advance money to the retirement fund, then repay itself, compensate bondholders and pocket profits when insurance companies paid off on retirees who died. According to a banking-industry source, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter, Gramm was involved in efforts to pitch similar UBS products to other financial institutions.

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