Capitol Is Home to Have-Nots, Too

Posted October 10, 2008 at 6:15pm

Some Members of Congress are worthless.

Or, more precisely, despite the widespread perception that Members are all millionaires, some lawmakers have submitted financial disclosure forms indicating that they have essentially no net worth.

Earlier this month, Roll Call published a list of the 50 wealthiest Members of Congress, pointing out that riches are difficult to tabulate because there are enormous loopholes in disclosure rules that have the effect of underestimating the assets of most Members. For instance, Members are not required to report their homes or other properties that do not produce income, and they also are not required to report their retirement savings if they are in a government retirement program like the Thrift Savings Plan.

But with those caveats in mind, it is still possible to identify Members who appear to be clustered at the bottom of the Capitol’s relative worth meter — those whose financial disclosure forms list few or no assets, or giant liabilities.

The poster child of the Have-Not Caucus would have to be Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). He racked up millions of dollars in legal bills in the 1980s, when, as a federal judge in Florida, he was acquitted of taking bribes but ultimately impeached by Congress.

According to Hastings’ most recent financial disclosure form, he is still carrying debts for legal fees totaling at least $2.1 million to six different creditors. The only asset he reports is a federal credit union account worth $1,000 to $15,000, meaning his reportable net worth is more than $2 million below zero.

Hastings is an outlier, but not the only Member whose disclosure form would appear to put them in the red.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) reports no assets, but he has outstanding loans — including college loans for three children — worth from $150,000 to $350,000.

Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) reports no assets but two liabilities worth at least $65,000, including a loan he took from his own retirement account worth at least $50,000.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) has a bank account worth $1,000 to $15,000, but it is his lone asset and is dwarfed by his liabilities, which total at least $66,000.

Freshman Rep. Christopher Murphy ( D-Conn.) lists no assets, but he and his wife each list a student loan debt of $15,000 to $50,000. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) is in the same boat, listing no assets and student loan debt of $15,000 to $50,000.

Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) declared nothing — that is, no reported assets, no reported liabilities, not even the pages of the forms where assets and liabilities are reported.

Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the only Senator in the less-than-zero group. Despite the fact that her husband is described as a “radio executive,” she reports no assets. She does have one liability, a revolving line of credit worth $15,000 to $50,000.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark) would appear to join Stabenow below the Meeks-McNerney line, but his deficit is really just a quirk of the reporting requirements. Pryor lists his only assets as two bank accounts in the names of his wife and children worth less than $15,000. The single liability on his form, a home loan valued at $500,000 to $1 million, would appear to push his net worth far into the red, but his disclosure form notes that the loan was paid off. The rules state than any liability that was owed during the calendar year has to be reported, even if it was paid off by the end of the year.

Members of the Congressional low-rent district should take heart in the story of Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who rose from their ranks the old-fashioned way: He married into money. Four years ago, when Roll Call surveyed Members with minimal assets, Moran described himself as “the poorest Member of Congress.” His disclosure form at the time listed no assets and more than $65,000 in debts, including at least $50,000 in legal fees from his divorce.

But Moran has since remarried, and his disclosure form this year lists his minimum net worth at about $4.6 million, just less than the $5 million threshold that served as entry to this year’s 50 Richest club. However, Moran’s form does carry an important caveat: “All income and assets listed are exclusively those of Mr. Moran’s spouse.”