A few days ago I slammed Democrats for hypocritically exempting American Samoa from the new minimum wage law. In passing, I noted that one of the beneficiaries of low wages on the island is Starkist, a subsidiary of Del Monte, which is based in Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district.
Partisans have now taken that basic data and run with it, providing a fascinating look at how a scandal can be ginned up out of, literally, nothing.
It started on Jan. 12, when somebody modified the Wikipedia entry on Del Monte to add a sentence claiming that Pelosi's husband, Paul, owns $17 million worth of Del Monte shares — suggesting, of course, that personal financial interest drove the Samoan exception. The right-wing site Newsbusters picked it up that same day, and it started spreading through the right-wing blogosphere. It gained momentum on Jan. 15, with an unsourced allegation by Rush Limbaugh. Along with the buzz came the usual smug and knowing comments of "I wonder why the mainstream media is ignoring this?"
Perhaps because it isn't true. Setting aside the wisdom of relying entirely on an unsourced Wikipedia edit, Wikipedia erased the edit a few hours after it was posted on Jan. 12.
Then the story morphed to say Pelosi owned $17 million of Heinz stock, and since Heinz owns 75 percent of Del Monte, the Pelosis still have a substantial financial interest.
First, consider that Heinz has 332 million shares outstanding, at a current stock price of $46.56, for a total market cap of about $15.5 billion.
So if Paul Pelosi actually does own $17 million worth of Heinz stock, that means he owns approximately 0.1 percent of the outstanding shares.
Further, this accusation appears to represent a misunderstanding of who owns what. The Del Monte transaction was completed in 2002. But it was Heinz shareholders received shares of the new Del Monte based on their share of ownership in Heinz. Thus Heinz shareholders — not Heinz itself — owned 75 percent of Del Monte as of 2002, through separate, non-Heinz stock. Heinz the company has no ongoing interest in Del Monte.