Lawmakers Revise Their Financial Reports

Posted February 1, 2010 at 6:45pm

Eight months after the deadline for filing their financial disclosure forms, Members of Congress are continuing to file amendments to the reports, in some cases raising more questions than the amendments answer.

Members are required to file financial disclosure forms every May 15, and though many say they have had their forms reviewed and approved in advance by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, dozens of Members file amendments each year.

An online database maintained by the Clerk of the House indicates that more than 100 amendments were filed in calendar year 2009 — though any of those amendments may have been for prior year disclosure forms — and already this year, eight Members filed amendments before the end of January.

Some of the amendments are straightforward — Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) provided extra detail on a few assets that were reported on his original form, and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) disclosed a 2008 trip to a Gulf of Mexico oil platform paid for by an oil company.

But other amendments are more complicated.

Freshman Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) filed an amendment Jan. 27 that adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to his minimum net worth.

Olson’s amendment discloses for the first time an interest-bearing bank account worth $250,000 to $500,000 and two blind trusts held by his children valued at $100,000 to $250,000 each.

Olson’s spokeswoman said her boss amended his form following an inquiry from the ethics committee, which is responsible for reviewing the forms and asking Members for corrections. The large bank account was the result of the sale of a home, and that money has since been reinvested, she said.

Under Roll Call’s system for tallying the minimum net worth of Members — the minimum value of all listed assets minus the minimum value of all listed liabilities — Olson’s liabilities appeared to outweigh his assets by $94,000. Recalculated with his amended form, Olson’s assets would outweigh his liabilities by about $346,000.

Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) filed an amendment last month that has the opposite effect on net worth, dropping his minimum net worth by more than $500,000 and knocking Deal out of the millionaire’s club in the House.

In his amended form, Deal appears to have changed the description and valuation of the Gainesville property where his family salvage business is located. On his original disclosure form filed last May, Deal listed Gainesville Salvage & Disposal twice, once as a family business worth $1 million to $5 million generating $50,000 to $100,000 worth of dividend income, and once as a property with the same value generating $15,000 to $50,000 worth of rental income.

The amended form retains the description and valuation of the family business, but replaces the rental description with an address — 1600 Athens Highway — and a property value of $250,000 to $500,000. A towing company operates out of this address, and it appears that Deal’s family has rented a portion of its property to this company.

Deal has acknowledged that the House ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics are investigating whether the Congressman used his position to oppose an overhaul of the state’s system for inspecting salvaged vehicles. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Deal’s family business earned $1.5 million from 2004 to 2008 under the current inspection program.

Deal’s amended form adds a new asset: five acres of land in Demorest, Ga., worth from $1 million to $5 million and generating from $2,500 to $5,000 in rental income. Deal had reported the purchase of that land on his 2005 disclosure form.

Deal’s amended form also includes a mortgage on the Demorest property worth $500,000 to $1 million.

As reported last May, Deal’s minimum net worth was $1.6 million. The amended form indicates a minimum net worth of $965,000.

Deal’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the amended disclosure form.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) filed an amendment Jan. 4 to disclose 15 stock sales she executed in 2008 with a total value of at least $29,000. McMorris Rodgers originally reported no income from any of the stock holdings. Her amended form indicates dividend income but no capital gains for each stock, with a total income of less than $20,000.