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Lawmakers are well-heeled lot, filings show

The overall fiscal picture of Congress has not changed despite the arrival of 100 freshmen, disclosure reports show. But many lawmakers also have hefty student loans or credit card debt.

June 15, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Kim Geiger and Richard Simon, Washington Bureau
  • House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), left, has a net worth of between $2 million and $6 million. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reported a net worth of at least $3.35 million.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), left, has a net worth of between… (Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — The arrival of nearly 100 freshmen did little to change the overall fiscal picture of Congress, financial disclosure reports showed Wednesday: On the whole, lawmakers are a well-heeled lot.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reported a net worth ranging from about $2 million to $6 million in 2010, much of it in blue-chip stocks.

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reported a net worth of at least $3.35 million.

Nevertheless, the reports offered reminders of the more typical financial burdens faced by most Americans. Many lawmakers reported unpaid student loans or hefty credit card balances. One cash-strapped freshman put himself on his campaign payroll to make ends meet last year.

The reports disclose lawmakers' unearned income and liabilities in broad ranges, making it difficult to describe exact transactions or precise net worth. Lawmakers do not have to include any information about their primary residences.

Many members opted for an extension and will file their 2010 reports later.

Beyond the numbers, the annual reports provide a window into the oddities and luxuries in the private lives of the nation's public servants. A husband pouring money into a struggling football league. A California congressman's good day or two at the races. A pricey ride home on a private jet.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) used her campaign committee to generate cash. Napolitano received a final payment between $5,000 and $15,000 on an outstanding loan she made to her campaign committee in the late 1990s. The $150,000 loan produced at least $132,700 in interest over 13 years, according to financial filings dating to 1998. At one point, the congresswoman charged her committee 18% interest.

"I didn't need the money," Napolitano said, explaining why she had waited so long to retire the debt.

Boehner's report showed his investments had increased about 15% in value since 2009.

His wealth, however, hardly compares with that of his predecessor, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. Pelosi's investment-banker husband, Paul, poured at least $650,000 into a new professional football league and at least $1.8 million into the Sacramento Mountain Lions, one of the league's five teams. He sold at least $2 million in Apple stock and at least $765,000 in Cisco Systems stock in 2010.

Another of the richest is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who made his fortune in the car alarm business. Issa is worth at least $200 million, according to his report, but the precise figure is impossible to determine.

Lawmakers also must disclose gifts, such as the $14,500 lift home that Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California gave to Reid and his wife the day before Christmas Eve.

"Sen. Feinstein was flying to San Francisco and stopping in Reno was of little inconvenience to her," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Atwater) reported financial interests in racehorses, among them Tres Locos and Unanimous Consent. Some of his horses produced thousands of dollars in winnings.

Some newly elected lawmakers belong to the millionaires club. About 60% of freshmen in the Senate and 40% in the House were millionaires in 2009, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But a handful of freshmen — conservative, deficit hawks who will face a major vote on whether to allow the U.S. to borrow more money — had considerable personal debt, like many Americans, their disclosure reports showed.

Rep. Timothy Griffin (R-Ark.) reported between $45,000 and $150,000 in liabilities from a student loan, an American Express balance and another personal loan. He listed assets valued between $22,000 and $125,000.

GOP Rep. James Lankford earned money giving speeches at youth camps and churches after quitting his job at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to run for Congress, spokesman Will Allison said.

Lankford paid himself $6,200 from his campaign committee to cover his bills. Campaign finance rules allow such payments under some circumstances.

"He and his wife lived off savings during the campaign," Allison said. "But the savings was starting to get thin."

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

kim.geiger@latimes.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tom Hamburger in Washington contributed to this report.

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