Advisors (with Constituents)

A look at four financial advisors turned politicians

With midterm elections just around the corner, most candidates running for office will have one thing in common: a law degree. Public service seems to attract more lawyers than any other profession — 24 of 43 U.S. presidents were lawyers, as are 44 percent of the current U.S. Congressional seat-holders. Financial advisors, adept at managing money and people, would seem like ideal candidates themselves; however, there is little evidence of their representation in elected office. (The late Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1996 and 2000, only won around 0.5 percent of the popular vote each time.) With this in mind, Registered Rep. has found four financial advisors with political chops, three of them running and one stepping down come November. Their stories follow.

JAMES FERRIN

Age: 50

Firm: Ferrin Capital Advisors

Location: Orem, Utah

Education: B.S., Finance, Brigham Young University

Occupation: Financial Planner

Years in the Industry: 25

Assets Under Advisement: N/A

Political Party: Republican

Running for: Lost in his primary after three terms in office.

Jim Ferrin won't be sifting through stacks of legislation and pulling all-nighters this winter. The life of a loser is much sweeter than that — he'll be on a cruise with his family and friends.

Ferrin, who has served three terms in the Utah House of Representatives, lost by 99 votes in a July Republican primary. His support of charter schools hadn't made him any friends in teacher unions and other public school associations, he says, and may have brought about his demise this time.

“People ask if I'm upset,” says Ferrin. “I'm not. I was honored and blessed to serve on the Legislature. But now I get my life back,” he says. “I'm very excited about that.”

A longtime activist at the local level, Ferrin decided to run for higher office after an incident in 1999 when the county school board went ahead with a planned development he felt was flawed. Ferrin Capital Advisors was only six years old at the time. “It was the top of the market and I was doing well financially, so I felt I could go out and try my hand at politics and still run my business.”

He took office in 2001. And, over three terms, he managed to run his business, too. “Being a Utah representative is like a part-time full-time job,” says Ferrin. From January through February, when they are in session, Ferrin says his laptop was his lifeline to the office and clients when he'd be doing 12- to 20-hour days in Salt Lake City. The rest of the year involves several once-a-month meetings, but also daily requests for face time from organizations and people seeking his attention. “For instance, had I been re-elected I'd be in Eastern Utah's oil producing region looking at oil wells right now,” he says.

Instead, he can spend more time with his wife of 22 years and their five children — and his business. Ferrin has roughly 350 clients, mostly Utah business owners and retirees with $500,000 or more in investable assets. He builds diversified portfolios for clients using mutual funds, separately managed accounts, REITs and insurance products. He also says he now limits his role to gathering assets and managing client relationships. “I used to think I could be everything to everyone,” he says. “I still strategize with clients about estate and tax-planning issues, but I also work directly with their attorneys and accountants.” As for another run at office, Ferrin is taking a pass for now. “The state legislature is always seen as a stepping stone, but I never had higher ambitions,” he says. “For me, I was interested in local issues, I wanted to serve the community.”

JOHN MURPHY

Age: 47

Firm: Morristown Financial Group, LPL

Location: Morristown, N.J

Education: B.A., Business Administration, Gettysburg College

Occupation: Financial Advisor

Years in the Industry: 25

Assets Under Advisement: $100 million

Party: Republican

Running for: Re-election as Morris County Freeholder

Should John Murphy be elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, his plans for the office will surprise a lot of people: He'd like to strip the position of much of its power. A politician ceding power?

Like any good politician, John Murphy is full of stories. He tells one about a woman he'd been talking to on a plane from Chicago to Jersey. He told her he was a financial advisor and that he was from New Jersey, which elicited a laugh. It was summer 2004 and then-Governor McGreevey was getting a lot of press for alleged extramarital shenanigans (that turned out to be true) and soon resigned. Says Murphy: “I asked her why she laughed and she said to me, ‘And I thought Chicago politicians were bad.’”

Murphy wants to change that impression by creating two new independently elected positions — an attorney general and an auditor general. Currently, the attorney general is appointed by the governor. “The New Jersey governor is the most powerful governor in the country, because he lacks those checks and balances,” says Murphy. He also wants campaign finance reform and clearer disclosure of state expenditures.

But first he has a job to do, literally. A native of Morris Township, a wealthy town in northern New Jersey, and a three-term incumbent Morris County Freeholder — the equivalent of a county commissioner or councilor in other states — he's up for re-election on Nov. 7 after winning the primary by a large margin. Winning his Freeholder seat back in Morris County — with its strong Republican base of more than 500,000 residents — is important in itself, but it also serves as a base of support for his run for governor in 2009. The 2009 race is one he's considered a favorite for after surprising the field in the 2005 primary with a strong third-place finish.

In step with his political career, Murphy has managed to grow a successful business. He earned his stripes at Merrill Lynch, where he was a broker for 22 years, before joining MFG three years ago and hooking up with his partner John Hyland. Murphy heaps praise on Hyland, who handles all the day-to-day operations when Murphy is out of the office. “I'm blessed with a great partner. I give him a lot of the credit for the success of the business,” says Murphy.

The two share the asset-gathering, networking and prospecting side of the business, but because of Murphy's political responsibilities, they don't share all their clients. Murphy says 75 percent of his accounts are small and medium-sized 401(k) plans; the rest are wealthy business owners and individuals. At ease talking to large groups, he enjoys educating employees about saving and prides himself on increasing the participation and individual contribution rates in plans he and Hyland take over.

DOUG OBEY

Age: 49

Firm: Questar Capital Corp.

Location: Westwood, Mass.

Education: B.S., Architectural Engineering, Wentworth Institute of Technology

Occupation: Financial Planner and Real Estate Investor

Years in the Industry: 22

Assets Under Advisement: $3 million

Political Party: Republican

Running for: Massachusetts State Senate, representing Suffolk and Norfolk Counties

Aside from their affinity for Republican governors recently, voters in what is often considered the most liberal state in the Union rarely punch the Republican ticket. Doug Obey hopes to beat those odds and says the people of Massachusetts badly need a dissenting opinion — especially his.

From the time he moved to Westwood 16 years ago, Obey has been politically active. “We have an old-fashioned town meeting-type government,” he says. “I'd do the research, understand the issues, then stand up and ask lots of questions.” That got him noticed — and elected to many local government posts since. Now Obey is taking a shot, albeit a long shot, at the State Senate.

“I'm working the hardest I ever have,” says Obey. Not surprising, since he is also juggling a real estate investment business — most of his income comes from eight single and multi-unit Cape Cod-area rental properties — and a small financial-planning practice. He says less than half of his 100 planning clients are “active,” and he's not taking on new ones. That said, he says his current clients take precedence over everything else. “They get my undivided attention when they want it,” he says.

Obey says the legislature needs more people with his business acumen — especially a financial disciplinarian from the GOP, which makes up only 15 percent of the entire General Court (the House and Senate). “The liberal agenda in this state is driving people and businesses away,” says Obey, who'd like to see income taxes and taxes on corporations reduced so that people and businesses will want to reside in Massachusetts.

Whether the Democrats are to blame or not, Massachusetts seems in a bad way: the state's job growth is less than half the national average, according to the Massachusetts Tax Payers Foundation; its total tax burden ranks sixth highest, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis; and, according to the 2005 Census data, the state was one of four that lost population.

Obey will need every arrow in his quiver to defeat his opponent, Marian Walsh, a six-term incumbent in the State Senate and no stranger to a fight. Her Republican challenger in 2004 took her to task for supporting Massachusetts' gay marriage law — the only one in the country — thinking the Catholic base would run her out; Walsh, a Catholic, won easily. Obey, who calls himself “fiscally conservative but more socially moderate,” says voters should have been given the opportunity to decide the law in the state, not the Supreme Court.

While the odds are against him, Obey says the people of Massachusetts are ready for a fresh voice: “The Democrats have to toe the line; I'm a Republican, they expect a dissenting opinion.”

FORREST HILL

Age: 49

Firm: The Camejo Group, Progressive Asset Management (PAM)

Location: Oakland, Calif.

Education: B.S., Biology and B.A., Plant Genetics, University of Massachusetts; Ph.D Biological Oceanography, M.I.T.

Occupation: Financial Advisor

Assets Under Advisement: $50 million

Political Party: Green

Running for: Secretary of State, California

Forrest Hill wants to shake up the election process in California — and the country — and he's starting with his own cash-starved campaign. Host a house party for Forrest!

A Green such as Hill has to raise money somehow; after all, he won't be receiving much from corporations — corporations, Hill says, use undue influence to buy elections. Besides one commercial — a spoof on Forrest Gump in which Hill is literally running to Sacramento — advertising dollars are tight. Supporters can sign up on his Web site to host a house party to benefit his campaign. They'll get a visit from the man himself and hear his spiel distilled down to 15 minutes.

As Secretary of the State of California, Hill's main role would be chief elections officer and keeper of records. As such Hill has several ideas about an electoral system he says is “broken.” Hill says corporations have too much power and would like to see campaign spending limits, free access to the media for all qualified candidates (he argues that third parties, such as the Greens, are often ignored) and public financing for elections.

In California, Hill wants to allow voters to be able to register on voting day and start a system of instant run-off voting. He says the net result would be greater voter turnout and elections that are more representative of the people's wishes. “An instant run-off lets voters rank their preferred candidates,” he says, “preventing the ‘spoiler affect’, which happens in a winner-take-all system.” For those who think Nader took votes from Gore in 2004 or Perot took votes from Bush Sr. in 1992, this system might sound appealing.

For all his ambition, Hill is new to politics and also financial services. He has three degrees and is licensed as a stockbroker and an investment advisor, but he didn't even go to college until 1990; instead, he spent much of the 1970s and 1980s traveling and volunteering his carpentry skills in underdeveloped countries, and playing in his band, Judy's Tiny Head, which toured with the Violent Femmes.

Today, after little more than two years in the business, he is primarily an asset-gatherer, but also helps manage client money. The Camejo Group, a three-person independent RIA, is an affiliate of the Progressive Asset Management Network, an alliance of more than 400 advisors that advocate socially responsible investing. Peter Camejo was Ralph Nader's running mate in 2004. “As you might guess, our client's are pretty liberal,” says Hill.

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