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A Wealth of Presidential Contenders

The Nation

Financial disclosures show no shortage of multimillionaires among Democrats vying for their party's nomination next year.

June 14, 2003|Mark Fineman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Democratic Party voters will have their pick of millionaires in next year's presidential elections -- including John F. Kerry, who appears to be the richest man in the Senate, judging from personal financial disclosure reports filed here Friday.

But there's also U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who brings up the financial rear among the nine Democratic presidential hopefuls.

His wealth hovers somewhere between $2,000 and $32,000.

"Clearly, there is not much money to be made being of the people, by the people and for the people," said Kucinich's press secretary, Doug Gordon.

Yet the party that has prided itself on being the people's party has more millionaires in the hunt for its presidential nod than ever before.

Several analysts said that wealth alone could present an image problem for the Democrats. "It gives the perception that they're detached from a normal person's life," said Larry Noble, director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. "It's fair to ask how in touch these people are with the average citizen.

"But it does take a lot of money to run for office, and traditionally it's mostly the wealthy who can run for president," Noble said. "Who's going to be able to take that much time off of work?"

There's no contest for the wealthiest of those Democratic hopefuls, according to the reports of personal assets and income released by the U.S. Senate on Friday and similar documents on file with the Federal Election Commission.

Kerry, of Massachusetts, reported assets of at least $165 million and possibly as much as $626 million, although he married into most of it when he wed the heiress of the Heinz ketchup fortune.

He also reported joint income last year ranging from $94 million to $160 million.

Federal law bars Kerry from drawing on the vast investment wealth held solely by Teresa Heinz Kerry, which apparently includes some of the balance sheet of stocks, bonds and other assets that fills some 80 pages in Kerry's Senate disclosure report. The reports do not make clear how much of the couple's wealth is shared.

The candidate is a millionaire in his own right, and some analysts said that status could weigh on the Democratic Party's ability to attack the Republicans as the party of the rich.

"It's baggage in that it's going to temper their rhetoric," said Charles Lewis, head of the Washington-based watchdog group Center for Public Integrity.

"It's going to be harder for the Democrats to demonize [President] Bush and [Vice-President Dick] Cheney as being the champions of the rich if they have a standard-bearer who's worth hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

Lewis added: "That's why some critics are saying the Democratic Party has lost its soul."

Kerry's aides insist their candidate hasn't, and that his riches will not influence the campaign.

"There will always be cynics who simply judge a book by its cover," said Robert Gibbs, Kerry's campaign spokesman. "But any reasonable examination of John Kerry's work in public service shows a record of fighting for working families on issues like education, health care and creating jobs."

Kerry is hardly alone in the party's multimillionaire candidates' club.

It also includes Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who reported assets amassed largely from his law practice that range from $12.9 million to $59.8 million, according to his disclosure form made public Friday. In addition, Edwards reported between $1 million and $2.2 million in income last year.

Also among the millionaires is Florida's Sen. Bob Graham, whose wealth ranges from $7.7 million to $31.6 million, according to the disclosure reports.

Under the federal disclosure laws that require these reports, candidates and officeholders only need to provide broad ranges of the value of their assets and income.

But former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the fourth millionaire in the Democratic presidential field, went a step further in his filings with the FEC. He gave an exact figure for his total assets. Dean said that excluding his home, he's worth $4,239,000.

Some of the candidates, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, also have released their latest tax returns. Lieberman and his wife showed a combined 2002 net income of $334,395. His disclosure report pegs their combined assets at anywhere from $377,000 to $1.5 million.

The disclosure reports released Friday did not include one for candidate Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who is to report Monday with other members of the House of Representatives.

But Gephardt has told the FEC that his assets range from $158,000 to $495,000.

Carol Moseley Braun, the former senator from Chicago who also is making a run at the presidency, reported assets ranging from $127,000 to $381,000.

The Democratic Party's only declared candidate who has yet to officially disclose his personal finances is the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The New York City activist requested and received an extension until June 30.

Sharpton's attorney, Stanley Schlein, said a fire at his client's office last winter destroyed personal documents and slowed the process of assessing Sharpton's wealth.

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Times researcher Christopher Chandler in the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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