About the Capitol Assets series

February 6, 2012
About this series

This series is based on an examination of the finances of all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate.

Congressional disclosure forms make it difficult to determine where lawmakers’ private interests intersect with their public roles. For instance, they are not required to disclose the location or value of their personal residences or of properties that do not generate income. They are not required to disclose the addresses of properties held in partnerships, limited-liability companies and corporations.

Lawmakers are also not required to list the employment of their children or parents, or the work titles, job descriptions or salaries of their spouses. Forms are submitted on paper and cannot be electronically searched.

Post reporters David S. Fallis, Scott Higham and Kimberly Kindy and researcher Bobbye Pratt compared the forms with a wide array of public records, including property assessments, civil and corporate filings, bankruptcy cases, liens and judgments. Many of the forms were obtained through the Web sites of the Center for Responsive Politics and LegiStorm, both nonprofit watchdog groups.

To identify earmarks and other spending, The Post relied on databases assembled by Taxpayers for Common Sense and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The Post also examined the Congressional Record and the Web sites of House and Senate appropriations committees, and news releases by lawmakers. Public records requests were filed with local government agencies, and secondary sources were swept for news accounts.

The Post determined the locations of earmarks for roads and other projects and compared those with the records assembled for each lawmaker. Earmarks and other spending provisions were also tracked to colleges, businesses and nonprofit corporations with connections to lawmakers and their family members. Reporters interviewed local government officials who received federal tax dollars, as well as lawmakers, their relatives and their congressional staffs.

The Post considered three factors when evaluating the spending: proximity of the earmarks to lawmakers’ residential and commercial property — most were within two miles; the extent of the public benefit; and how closely the spending aligned with the private interests of the lawmakers.

The financial impact of spending near property owned by lawmakers or their family members was often difficult to discern. Experts say land values are driven by multiple factors, and the downturn in the real estate market complicates the picture. In addition, many of the projects documented by The Post are currently underway and their impact has yet to be seen.

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