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Money in Politics

Gottheimer Owns Russian Media Stock

Moscow-based company allegedly boosts misinformation about Ukraine

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) at a Feb. 9 news conference in Washington.

 

(Image: Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images.)

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) holds thousands of dollars worth of stock in a Russian tech company that has been accused of pushing misinformation and harvesting data from consumers around the globe, congressional filings show.

According to Gottheimer’s most recent annual financial disclosure, which came out in August 2021, he owns somewhere between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of assets in Yandex, a Moscow-based company worth an estimated $6.7 billion. Yandex, known as “Russia’s Google,” has played an active role spreading misinformation globally. Gottheimer first purchased the stock in October 2018, according to his 2019 annual disclosure.

Gottheimer, who has been considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, voted in line with former President Donald Trump more than any other Democrat, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Gottheimer recently defended his ownership of questionable stocks in a statement, saying in part “Prior to taking office, I turned over management of my retirement savings and investments to a third party, who has full investment discretion. Throughout my time in Congress, decisions related to my managed investments have been made at the direction of that third party. I don’t believe Members of Congress, judges, or any government employee in a policy role, should be involved in the day-to-day trading of securities, including crypto currencies.”

Gottheimer also touted that he is working closely with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) on legislation that would require members of Congress to put their investments in blind trusts. He was listed as a co-sponsor of the bill the very same day put out his release.

Despite his statement, his stock transaction reports since then have not listed any sales of the Yandex stock. That means he still owns the asset despite the war in Ukraine. The most recent transaction report was filed March 18 – nearly three weeks after his statement. In addition to an annual disclosure, members of Congress are required to disclose any purchases or sales of stock. There have been disclosures since his annual report and those would have indicated if he sold the stock.

It’s also not clear how blind Gottheimer really is to his assets. According to Planet Money, “a way to evaluate a trust is to look at what kind of reporting the trust makes back to the politician. If the candidate gets fairly detailed reports about how much he has made in capital gains, dividends or interest, he may be able to figure out what's going on inside the trust.”

Financial disclosures are considered public information and are available to the general public.

A representative for Gottheimer did not dispute TYT's reporting. They respond to our request for comment by sending a link to the already public, previously mentioned statement. Representatives for Yandex did not return our request for comment.

Why is his ownership in Yandex particularly significant?

Gottheimer owns stock in a swath of publicly traded companies, but Yandex is particularly troubling, most recently in regards to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. According to recent reporting from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Russian tech giant delivered ads to several Russian language “news” sites that amplified propaganda to millions of readers just last month.

The Bureau reported that Yandex is owned primarily by western investors. Yandex ads supported articles making false claims about Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky, U.S. bioweaponry labs in Ukraine, and amplifying false Russian narratives about the war.

Yandex’s news service also recently came under fire from its own former news director, Lev Gershenzon, who quit in protest. On Facebook, he called out his colleagues for facilitating the spread of propaganda about the war.

“Yandex today is a key element in hiding information about the war,” Gershenzon wrote in his March 1 post. “Every day and hour of such ‘news’ are human lives. And you, my former colleagues, are also responsible for this,”

The European Union even recently sanctioned Yandex for its role spreading misinformation.

This very same company also is involved with harvesting metadata from millions of smartphone users around the globe. According to the Financial Times, Yandex has embedded code into roughly 52,000 different apps. Through its proprietary “AppMetrica” software development kit, app creators have made roughly 2000 new apps since the invasion. According to the report, some of them specifically track Ukrainian users.

Even DuckDuckGo, a search engine that has become a haven for far-right conspiracy theorists who felt censored by Google, has distanced itself from Yandex. The company ended a partnership with Yandex in February amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Gottheimer also holds investments in Lukoil, a Russian oil company. Although he still holds investments in the company, which has gas stations in New Jersey, Gottheimer championed legislation to ban Russian oil imports. He has not yet taken any comparable action when it comes to Yandex’s purview. Gottheimer has not called for sanctioning or otherwise punishing Russian disinformation outlets.

Andy Hirschfeld is a freelance reporter. You can find him on Twitter @andyreports

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