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Congress Members' Asset Reports Provide Peek Into Personal Lives

Government: Financial disclosures show legislators hardly are immune to the vagaries of the market.

June 17, 2002|JULIET EILPERIN | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — The collapse of Enron Corp. last year hit members of Congress in a couple of places: where they make policy for the nation and where they make--or lose--money for themselves.

The fall into U.S. Bankruptcy Court by the Houston-based energy firm ignited high-profile hearings and a broad debate over corporate responsibility. In the meantime, it quietly clipped several lawmakers who sold or held Enron stock as its value plummeted, according to financial disclosure reports released Friday.

The reports, which each member of Congress must file annually, provide a rare peek into legislators' personal lives. They reveal not only their assets and stock trades but also what gifts they received and extra money they earned on the side. Though members tend to be worth much more on average than their constituents, the reports show they are not immune to Wall Street's vagaries.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) lost at least $20,000 in Enron stock trades. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) bought 185 Enron shares for more than $1,600 and sold them for $125 the day after the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and air quality, bought $4,500 of Enron stock last fall when its shares were valued at $9 apiece and its prospects for a merger with Dynegy Inc. were bright. By the time he sold the 500 shares on Dec. 31, they were worth $895.

Barton said Friday he still has "more than I want to admit" in Enron stock, noting that his son Brad--a financial analyst--warned him against the investment.

"I showed I could lose money with the best of them," he said in an interview, adding that he had learned his lesson. "It shows the market works, and the market goes up and the market goes down."

Other Enron losers included Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar), Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho) and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas).

Enron owes Gramm's wife, Wendy, $500,000 to $1 million for serving on its board of directors. By contrast, Becky Whetstone--wife of Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas)--lost only $30 in a series of Enron stock transactions that began in February 2000 and ended by August 2001.

Some lawmakers suffered their losses elsewhere. Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) lost money on investments in Qwest Communications International and Global Crossing Ltd. Both companies tanked amid allegations of impropriety.

On a broader scale, Friday's disclosures reinforced the Senate's image as a millionaire's club. Though lawmakers are compelled to list their assets only within wide ranges, the rough approximations provide a picture of their means.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) reported $26.3 million to $52.8 million in assets, and Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) a department store heir, holds as much as $13 million.

A few Democratic presidential contenders listed healthy portfolios as well. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a former trial lawyer, has at least $7.3 million and possibly as much as $33.6 million, most of it in a blind trust. Teresa Heinz, the wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has assets exceeding $500 million.

Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.), a past chairman of Goldman, Sachs & Co. who spent tens of millions of dollars to win his seat in 2000, reported one investment held in a blind trust worth at least $50 million. He valued four others at $5 million to $25 million each. In August, his wife, Joanne, sold their Park Avenue condominium for at least $5 million.

Lawmakers do not have to disclose the value of their salary, federal pensions, primary residence or checking accounts and savings accounts worth less than $5,000. That leaves some House members with little to report.

Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield), who influences trillions of dollars in federal funds as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, listed no assets or liabilities. Prominent liberals Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) did the same, and fellow progressive Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) listed more in loans than in assets.

"Government of the people occasionally means that some representatives may, in fact, just like their constituents, live paycheck to paycheck," Kucinich said. "My constituents are my assets."

For the most part, House and Senate leaders are not nearly as rich as most of their rank-and-file colleagues. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) reported $405,000 to $1 million in assets. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) holds $134,000 to $610,000 in 26 stock funds but owes $65,000 to $150,000 in student loans for his children.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who is retiring this year, listed no assets but reported a line of credit at Wells Fargo of $15,000 to $50,000.

The recent ascension of House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has significantly boosted the House leadership's overall wealth. She reported assets of at least $23.2 million.

Much of Pelosi's wealth stems from her husband, Paul, an investment banker. Pelosi, known for showering her aides and colleagues with gourmet meals, frequently quips at the outset, "Thank God for Paul Pelosi!"

The reports also provided an epilogue for the travails of Rep. Gary Condit (D-Ceres), who lost his seat after his relationship with slain intern Chandra Levy became public. He sold his Adams Morgan condo last year, netting $50,000 to $100,000.

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