WASHINGTON – Senate leaders are doing well financially thanks to a combination of their $183,500 salary, assets and relatively low debt. Some colleagues, however, have run up large legal bills in connection with political scandals, according to 2007 disclosure reports released Friday.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listed that salary as their only earned income last year.
Reid reported a $14,000 gift: full ownership of a 4-acre property in his hometown of Searchlight, Nev., that he received from the widow of a friend. McConnell reported receiving a crystal sculpture award valued at $500 from the American Ireland Fund.
Reid owns millions of dollars worth of land in Nevada, as well as bonds. The larger assets on McConnell's financial report are held by his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
While not exact, the annual disclosure forms offer a glimpse of how lawmakers are doing financially. House reports were to be released Monday.
In this election year, all 435 House seats, one-third of the 100-member Senate and the presidency are up for grabs in November. Those running frequently make the case that they, too, feel the current financial crunch, or at least the pain of people who do.
It is not always an easy case for senators to make. In the early 20th century, the Senate was known as a millionaire's club, and the reputation has stuck to some extent. But not every senator is wealthy; indeed, many have passed up more lucrative careers to serve in government.
Some veteran senators, in fact, are feeling it the pocketbook because of political scandals.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, reported owing up to $50,000 to a Washington law firm, Williams & Connolly, for legal fees incurred by a Justice Department investigation into repairs made to his home. Stevens has denied any wrongdoing; he is seeking re-election.
Other senators have modest sources of income aside from their salary, which for most is $165,200.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., makes $183,500 as president pro tem and reported $30,000 in income from a book. At 90 and in his ninth Senate term, he is the longest-serving senator in history. But Byrd never has accumulated the wealth of his colleagues.
Beyond an Individual Retirement Account valued at between $100,000 and $250,000, Byrd's main source of unearned income was rent from a house in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He also reported $30,000 in income from a book.
The reports show that the Senate's aristocrats remain wealthy: Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., reported millions in assets and unearned income of $2 million to $11 million. He owed $5 million to $25 million on a bank loan.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., reported trust funds of $20 million to $100 million and a mortgage on the family's Hyannis Port, Mass., compound of $1 million to $5 million.
Disclosures from the two likely presidential nominees, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, shed a little new light on their finances, but do reveal some investment strategies. The candidates already had released more detailed tax returns as part of their White House bids; those returns showed significant wealth in both their families.
Obama, D-Ill., made $4 million last year from sales of his two books that jumped along with interest in his presidential campaign. The forms showed that the senator and his wife invested $1 million to $5 million in a money market fund; bought $500,000-$1 million in U.S. treasury notes; and purchased college savings plans, valued at $100,000-$250,000 each, for their two daughters. The Obamas' total worth was $2 million-$7.4 million.
The McCains are richer, but most of the wealth is held by the lawmaker's wife and children. Cindy McCain is the heiress to a large Arizona beer distributorship and is estimated to be worth more than $100 million. She reported $6 million in income in 2006, the last year of tax returns publicly released, while the senator reported a total income of $405,409 in 2007.
The disclosure forms make it impossible to pinpoint her holdings; many assets held by her and her children are valued at simply over $1 million. John McCain's personal holdings are much more modest, with between $16,000 and $65,000 in two accounts and $2,000 to $30,000 in bank accounts held jointly with his wife.
Reid, meanwhile, has owned portions of more than 200 acres of mining claims in Nevada for years, including old claims around Searchlight. The assessed value of those claims and other land holdings increased from $496,000-$1.39 million in 2006 to $845,016-$1.975 million in 2007. Reid also owns school district, county and state bonds, mutual funds and a pension and profit sharing plan.
McConnell's modest holdings are in a family trust and individual retirement account funds. The larger assets on his financial report are held by Chao, including a Vanguard 500 index mutual fund worth $1 million to $5 million.