Like many members of Congress, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been a fierce critic of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, blaming the government-backed loan programs for excesses that helped create the financial meltdown in 2008.
And like millions of other home purchasers, Bachmann took out a home loan in 2008 that offered lower costs to the borrower through one of the federally subsidized programs, according to mortgage experts who reviewed her loan documents.
Just a few weeks before Bachmann called for dismantling the programs during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, she and her husband signed for a $417,000 home loan to help finance their move to a 5,200-square-foot golf-course home, public records show. Experts who examined the loan documents for The Washington Post say that they are confident the loan was backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Seeing problems with the programs — especially the high costs to taxpayers — hasn’t stopped a concerned public or other members of Congress from taking advantage of the lower interest rates that come due to government backing.
Bachmann has been the most outspoken critic of the loan programs and other government subsidies among Republican presidential candidates. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty also has called for dismantling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Experts who reviewed his mortgage documents said that there was no way to tell whether his home loan from 1994 had government backing.
Bachmann’s mortgage was part of a package of debt that she and her husband, Marcus, assumed to buy their home, public records show. They also have other loans, including a home equity line of credit, a business mortgage and another business loan for their Christian counseling clinics, bringing their liabilities to more than $1 million, according to the most recently available public records.
The Bachmanns’ assets, according to her latest financial disclosure statement, range between $862,018 and $2 million.
Their total income has not been disclosed, but Bachmann gets a $174,000 salary as a member of Congress. There is no evidence that they cannot support their current debt.
She also is a leading critic of expanding the federal debt limit. “When managing your family budget, you don’t spend money you don’t have,” she said in a statement last year, “and our government should be no different.”
Bachmann’s campaign declined to comment on her loans. In an e-mailed statement, a Bachmann spokesman, Doug Sachtleben, said, “The Congresswoman’s personal financial disclosures will speak for themselves.”
The experts said the Bachmanns bought a more expensive home using typical strategies during a time of easier credit. With their existing home still on the market, they assumed liability on the same day for the $417,000 mortgage and a $249,999 secured line of credit backed by the residence, records show.
The $417,000 mortgage was the cap of what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would loan at the time in her region.
“The overall borrowing harkens back to the days of easy credit. A lot of people leveraged themselves like this,” said Guy D. Cecala, CEO and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.
The Post found Bachmann’s loans in Minnesota property records. Financial disclosures filed with the House list her business loans, but she is not required to divulge personal property debts. She and other presidential candidates have not yet filed required disclosure forms.
Bachmann bought a home in the upscale Stillwater community on Aug. 29, 2008, as she campaigned for a second congressional term, financing $666,999 of the $760,000 home, records show.
Three experts who examined the mortgage documents said it appears the Bachmanns put down about $93,001 or 12 percent. Experts said the down payment would have been fairly common in 2008; most lenders now require at least 20 percent.
The couple’s previous home was on the market at the time and had two loans outstanding. When the house sold a few months later for $334,423, the Bachmanns paid off whatever remained on two prior equity loans for $100,000 and $200,000, records show.
Their golf-course home was custom built with a panelled library, spa and wine cellar for former NFL player Ross Verba in 2005. Verba faced foreclosure after sinking more than $2 million into the property, court and mortgage records show. He originally listed the home for $1.75 million in 2007.
“They [the Bachmanns] had to put a lot of work into it because all the landscaping had died,” said neighbor Nick Dragisich in a telephone interview.
Four months after they took out the mortgage, interest rates dropped, and the Bachmanns refinanced the $417,000 loan for another one of equal value.
The mortgage documents do not disclose the interest rates or other terms. Bachmann campaign officials declined to provide details.
Bachmann’s 2010 financial disclosures reveal a modest financial portfolio. Along with her congressional salary, she reported that their two counseling clinics make no profit aside from her husband’s annual salary, which is not disclosed.
She reported bank account interest income between $2 and $400 and mutual fund investments that earned income between $2,002 and $9,700, which was reinvested.
Bachmann’s portfolio contrasts sharply with other top White House contenders. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist, listed assets valued between $190 million and $250 million on his 2008 presidential financial disclosures. Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China and Utah governor, is an heir to his family’s chemicals company.
Pawlenty received $120,000 a year as governor, and his wife worked for years as a district court judge. His home is valued at $319,800 in county records.
Mortgage records show that Pawlenty has paid off a number of home equity loans and has one for $45,000 outstanding. Pawlenty’s last state disclosure statement showed he has money market accounts and other securities, but state law does not require disclosure of the assets’ value. He listed no liabilities.
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Research editors Alice Crites and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.