Congressional Lifestyles Look Leaner Lately
By Guy Gugliotta and Helen Dewar
While it is clear from some of the glittering portfolios on display that Congress still attracts rich people, it is equally clear that Congress no longer makes people rich.
Most of those who have money got it long before they came to Capitol Hill. Congressional multimillionaires include those who inherited it, such as Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), and those who made it, such as cellular phone executive Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and those who married it, such as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), husband of Teresa Heinz, widow of late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), of Heinz ketchup.
At this point, after outlawing the fancy gifts and the fees for outside speeches, and after mandating tighter conflict-of-interest accounting, lawmakers have pretty much become wage slaves just like most of America. Of course, $136,700 per year may not seem like peanuts, but it starts to shrink when you're managing two households and sending the kids to college.
This year, continuing a masochistic streak that has persisted since House Republicans began flexing their muscles in the early 1990s, an Appropriations subcommittee blocked the annual cost-of-living raise so as not to seem greedy in an election year.
For both Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), this probably was unwelcome news, for neither leader has much money to speak of. Gingrich still owes the U.S. Treasury $200,000 as part of his reimbursement for the ethics investigation that concluded early last year.
Gephardt shed the North Carolina vacation home that was the subject of an ethics complaint during the last Congress, and he is servicing two student loans and just paid for his daughter's wedding.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) looked a bit better off than their House counterparts but were still poorer than many of their colleagues.
Lott's voluminous disclosure package outweighed Rockefeller's, but most of the paper described in excruciating detail his $17,000 individual retirement account and a smaller IRA for his wife.
Lott listed assets worth between $190,000 and nearly $600,000, but he had liabilities ranging from $225,000 to $565,000. His wife, a private consultant for the Carlisle Collection of women's clothing, was not required to report her salary.
Daschle showed assets of $200,000 to $850,000, much of it from rental apartments he owns in Arlington and South Dakota, but he had liabilities of $235,000 to $565,000, most of it from mortgages on the apartments. Daschle's wife is a lobbyist on aviation issues.
The financial disclosure forms require lawmakers to list their assets and liabilities within certain broad ranges, which makes it difficult in most cases to pinpoint their net worth.
Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles (R-Okla.) was somewhat better off, with assets of $326,000 to $1.14 million and no liabilities, while Assistant Minority Leader Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) listed $1.4 million in assets. Among the top House leaders, only Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), a successful business executive before he came to Congress in 1991, showed serious money, with $2.2 million in assets.
Lower Rank, Greater Riches
The leaders' relative poverty contrasted sharply with the riches of many of their lesser-ranked colleagues, many of whom had another, and considerably more lucrative, life before they arrived on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), owner and president of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and a self-made millionaire via a supermarket chain, is worth well in excess of $100 million. Freshman Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a securities executive, made at least 18 stock transactions of between $1 million and $5 million in 1997 and 1998, often buying and selling shares in the same company within days of each other.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) founded a hugely successful company called Automatic Data Processing, which pays him a $185,000 annual pension. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who has held public office since 1973, also gets a pension -- $6,277.92 from the Illinois Assembly.
Former world champion miler Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.) earned $10,000 for signing autographs, but former major league pitcher Rep. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) had an even better year in 1997, getting elected to the Hall of Fame and making $18,000 signing baseballs.
Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) made between $241,500 and $2.1 million in residuals and royalties from the estate of her late husband and predecessor, former rock singer Sonny Bono (R). Former lawyer/actor Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) reported outside income of $42,666, mostly from residuals for a variety of movie appearances.
Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), one of the richest members of Congress, filed a 238-page disclosure statement, detailing everything. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who is running for a Senate seat, has no money and filed a three-page statement that said so. Freshman Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.) reported earning $360 as an Amway salesman before he won a special election and came to Congress.
With on-the-job options for big bucks virtually gone, members continued to search for clever and innovative ways to turn a profit. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the only Native American in the Senate and an accomplished jewelry designer, made $225,929 from his jewelry business and sold nearly $13,000 worth of cattle.
House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman William F. Goodling (R-Pa.) reported buying and selling $22,500 in thoroughbred racehorses at the Wright-Good Farm in Jacobus, Pa., which he and his wife own.
"I dunged out the stables before I went to the office this morning," Goodling said yesterday. He once sold a horse to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos for $18,000, he added, but he hasn't saddled any Triple Crown winners yet. Still, he noted, "you always dream."
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) earned $540 for a re-broadcast of her appearance on TV's "Murphy Brown" and picked up a tidy $1,699.50 for a cameo portraying herself in the movie "Deep Impact," even though her scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Her staff said she gave the fee to two California charities.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) listed an agreement to receive book royalties as well as an option to make a television movie from a mystery novel, "Capitol Offense," which she co-wrote with Marylouise Oates, while Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) received more than $12,000 in fees and royalties for writing and recording a number of mostly religious songs.
Rep. Jack Metcalf (R-Wash.) earned $20,000 from the Log Castle Bed and Breakfast, a four-bedroom cabin designed by his wife and built by himself by hand from logs he cut on his Whidbey Island property in Puget Sound. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) gets $2,000 per month for doing a radio show called "Face Off."
Many members found innovative ways to salt their money away or make it work for them. Rep. Pat Danner (D-Mo.) owns three car washes in Kansas City and Gladstone, Mo. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.) owns a coin collection worth $16,326.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who is of Irish ancestry, reported owning a one-third interest in a cottage in County Galway, Ireland, valued at $100,000.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), one of the wealthier members in the House, reported assets valued at as much as $2.9 million, most from investments in gold mines and other precious metal enterprises. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) holds "seat licenses" at the Texas Motor Speedway valued at $1,001 to $15,000.
Although the disclosure forms do not require spouses to list their incomes, several lawmakers described help from their partners. The wives of Lott, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), Resident Commissioner Carlos A. Romero-Barcelo (D-P.R.) and others were identified as members of the Meager Means Club -- a congressional spouses group that invests tiny amounts of money in the stock market.
Retiring Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) listed assets of $100,000 to $250,000, but the other half of the House Republicans' formerly up-and-coming power couple, Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), who resigned in the middle of 1997, did just fine.
Paxon valued Molinari's speeches and articles at an estimated $53,000, including $20,000 from the International Council of Shopping Centers. Paxon didn't mention Molinari's current salary at CBS or earnings from her book, "Representative Mom."
The wife of Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.) owns a beauty shop in Penn Township, Pa., and works there as a beautician. Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) listed his wife as a "self-employed aerobics instructor." House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) said his wife earned $3,000 as a fund-raiser.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) reported that his reelection committee paid an undisclosed salary to his wife, who served as his campaign manager. His statement also said he owed Orange County, Calif., between $10,001 and $15,000 in fines, which his press secretary said were owed by his wife from campaigns she had worked in other than Rohrabacher's.
At this point, the only gifts lawmakers may keep are those of insignificant value, which don't have to be reported. Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) reported his anyway: flowers; books (including "Get America Singing," from Sens. Boxer and Hatch); a sweat shirt from Fruit of the Loom; a wine glass; and six bottles of Bob's All-Purpose Sauce from "Country Bob," of Centralia, Ill.
Anything fancy has to be reported to the chambers' respective ethics committees so a waiver can be granted. When the ban went into effect at the beginning of 1996, there was a lot of residual gift-giving momentum that resulted in lots of waivers.
But in 1997, the inertia was gone, and so were most of the serious gifts. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association gave Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) a Waterford crystal bowl valued at $275. Bliley's committee steered the landmark 1996 Telecommunications Act through the House.
And Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.) reported receiving a $500 star quilt from Oglala Lakota College, $500 in lodging at a cabin in Wall, S.D., and a $350 commemorative print from the Keep South Dakota Green Committee.
Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) accepted a $4,500 trip for him and his wife to fly to Naples and Capri, paid for by Vittorio Denora of Geneva. Ethics has allowed all-expense paid trips if the benefactor is a longtime friend.
Also in a state of collapse is the once popular practice of giving speeches. Now that the money has to be given to charity, lawmakers appear much less often, if at all. One exception in 1997 was Hatch, who earned $44,600 from 23 speeches and gave it all away, mostly in Utah.
Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.) listed a $500 fee he received and gave to charity for appearing at the "Kmart Kids Race Against Drugs," where his statement said he "drove lawn tractor."
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) gave 11 speeches on several subjects for $13,000, and made nine trips, mostly to speak about foreign affairs. Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.), a leading proponent of medical insurance reform, took 13 trips paid for by medical and dental organizations.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) took 16 trips, seven of them for gay and lesbian or human rights group meetings. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), one of the House's leading African Americans, took 11 trips, mostly to speak to civil rights groups. And House Minority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), a leading pro-labor lawmaker, made 12 trips, half of them financed by labor unions or union federations.
Staff writers Charles R. Babcock, Steve Barr, William Branigin, Juliet Eilperin, Ruth Marcus, Bill McAllister, John Mintz, Terry Neal, Eric Pianin, Rene Sanchez and Barbara Vobejda and staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company