For lawmakers scaling the leadership ladder in the House, success can carry a hidden penalty: The higher you go, the less money you have.

While several rank-and-file House members boast stock and real estate portfolios in the millions, according to financial disclosure forms released yesterday, Republican and Democratic leaders of the House are considerably less wealthy.

Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), for example, has no assets beyond his home and checking account after sending five children to college, while Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) is still paying off $80,000 to $200,000 in obligations, including college loans for his children.

"Both Republicans and Democrats can be poor," Gephardt observed, adding that while he is not complaining about his $157,000 congressional salary, "if you're in this to make money, you're in the wrong place."

That may be so. But the 1999 financial disclosure forms suggest that money and congressional service can go hand in hand, especially if you inherit wealth or marry into it. They also show that while many House members have small fortunes in real estate, investing in stocks--particularly high-tech stocks--has become increasingly popular as rank-and-file lawmakers seek to build on their $141,300 salaries.

Inherited wealth and wise investments have given Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Science Committee, a net worth of $10,014,000. Sensenbrenner, whose great-grandfather founded Kimberley-Clark Corp., the Texas-based paper products giant, has a stamp collection worth $55,000 and owns $7.7 million in largely old-economy stocks and bonds, such as those of Merck & Co., General Electric Co. and Kimberley-Clark.

But for whatever reason, wealth does not seem to trickle up to the House leadership.

Armey and Gephardt have talked privately about how they've spent most of their money on their children's education, according to Armey, a former college economics professor who quoted a line from country singer Jerry Jeff Walker to describe his financial situation: "Getting by by getting by is my stock in trade."

Even House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), known for extracting millions of dollars from the business community for campaigns, isn't particularly well off. He listed assets valued between $53,000 and $140,000, including Exxon Corp. stock worth between $50,000 and $100,000. Lawmakers are required to list the value of assets and liabilities only in broad ranges.

DeLay's wife, Christine, works for his former chief of staff's consulting and lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, according to his report. DeLay's office did not comment on what she does for the group, but she is not registered as a lobbyist.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) financial situation has improved since last year, largely as a result of property he inherited after his father's death in 1998. He reported assets worth between $370,000 and $975,000, including a recently purchased office building that used to serve as an opera house.

Moving down the leadership chain reveals more robust bank accounts. House Minority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.), with assets worth between $80,000 to $202,000, outranks Gephardt. But Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (Tex.) outshines both of them with an elaborate stock portfolio worth between $1 million and $3.2 million.

House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (Okla.) is also better off than some of his higher-ranking counterparts. He listed between $300,000 and $600,000 worth of real estate, but reported personal business loans valued at between $90,000 and $300,000. The former youth minister earned $19,400 preaching at churches.

House members were allowed to earn as much as $20,505 in outside income last year.

The dilemma for many members is how to boost their stock portfolios without letting their financial interests come into conflict with their public responsibilities when they vote on legislation that could potentially affect the companies they invest in.

Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), who is running for the Senate, has investments in a handful of New York companies, including between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of shares in North Fork Bancorporation Inc. of Melville, N.Y., and $15,000 to $50,000 worth of stock in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. These companies are financial firms, and Lazio sits on the House Banking and Financial Services Committee.

Three Democrats from Washington state have investments in Microsoft Corp., a company that all three have strongly defended in its antitrust case as well as in other matters important to the software giant.

Rep. Jay Inslee, who represents Microsoft's hometown of Redmond, has been among the fiercest defenders of the company, making numerous floor speeches, writing strongly worded letters to the Justice Department and even attending the closing arguments in the trial to show his support for the company.

In this case, Inslee's interests strongly coincide with those of his constituents. At the end of last year, Inslee owned 632 shares and his wife owned 332 shares of Microsoft stock, which, at yesterday's market closing, were worth about $70,000.

Regarding his hard-charging defense of the company, Inslee said: "It is a happy coincidence between what my constituents believe and my interests."

Another big Microsoft stockholder is Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), the outgoing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who will retire this year. Archer, 72, will leave the House a wealthy man. In a detailed financial statement attached to his disclosure report, Archer listed assets worth more than $3.3 million and no liabilities. His stockholdings include 800 shares in Microsoft and 1,400 shares in computer chipmaker Intel Corp.

More adventurous was Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), a House Judiciary Committee member whose trading activity consisted entirely of selling "puts" and "calls" on more than a dozen stocks, including those of Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co., Microsoft, eBay Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

Bachus said he put himself through law school trading stocks, quit for a time and started again about three years ago. "I wouldn't do it if it wasn't profitable," he said, adding that he made about $75,000 in the market last year.

Other House members made their money--and invested it--in more unusual ways.

Rep. Ron Packard (R-Calif.) listed $15,000 to $50,000 in "investment diamonds" in addition to a coin collection worth between $1,000 and $15,000.

Indeed, coin collecting seems to be popular among many Republicans. Archer reported a $16,326 collection. Rep. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.) reported a collection worth between $50,000 and $100,000. Another coin collector is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), who valued his semi-numismatic collection between $100,000 and $250,000.

Rep. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.) reported an interest in eight thoroughbred horses worth a total of $20,500, including a colt named Mister Goodie and a filly called Lady of Dover. Among the $19 million to $70 million worth of assets listed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her husband were two California vineyards, each worth as much as $5 million.

Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), an NFL Hall of Famer who played for the Seattle Seahawks for 14 years, made $23,507 from five card-signing sessions. He gave about $3,000 of the earnings to charity.

Rep. John David Hayworth (R-Ariz.)--whose grandfather played for the Detroit Tigers with Baseball Hall of Fame member Hank Greenberg--earned $1,000 in royalties for providing footage to the director of a documentary about the legendary Jewish ballplayer.

Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.) offered a window into the flotsam that deluges congressional offices by detailing every gift he received, no matter how nominal the value. His list begins with a copy of "When You Say 'I Do,' God Says, 'I Will' " from the Covenant Marriages Ministry and ends 51 pages later, with the 18 ears of corn and three tomatoes from Keller's Farm and the Girl Scout cookies from Bell Atlantic Corp.

Among Washington area lawmakers, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) reported assets worth between $875,000 and $2 million. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), a tireless promoter of federal spending for the National Institutes of Health in her district, held $145,000 to $400,000 worth of stock in pharmaceutical firms Pfizer Inc., Merck, Monsanto Co. and DuPont, and $1.1 million to $2.7 million worth of assets overall.

At the other extreme, Reps. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) disclosed debts after marital splits last year. Moran reported $30,003 to $45,000 in revolving-credit debt and no assets. Wynn owed $250,003 to $600,000 in mortgages for three local properties worth $150,002 to $350,000.

Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu, Mike Allen, James V. Grimaldi and Matthew Vita and staff researcher Lynn Davis contributed to this report.

What They're Worth

J. Dennis Hastert

(R-Ill.)

House speaker

Assets: Between $370,000 and $975,000, including a farm in Shipman, Ill., and a D.C. townhouse.

Liabilities: Farm and property mortgages and loans cosigned with relatives.

Richard K. Armey

(R-Tex.)

Majority leader

Assets: No assets listed

Liabilities: Line of credit between $15,000 and $50,000.

Tom DeLay

(R-Tex.)

Majority whip

Assets: Between $53,000 and $140,000, including between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of Exxon stock.

Liabilities: None

Richard A. Gephardt

(D-Mo.)

Minority leader

Assets: Between $19,000 and $110,000, including growth and index mutual funds.

Liabilities: Between $80,000 and $200,000, including two student loans.

David E. Bonior

(D-Mich.)

Minority whip

Assets: Between $80,000 and $202,000, including between $50,000 and $100,000 in a growth mutual fund.

Liabilities: None

NOTE: Representatives report the value of assets and liabilities in broad ranges. Wife's assets sometimes are included.

SOURCE: House financial disclosures