Reports Peek at the Wealth of Members

Disclosures Reveal Gifts, Debt and Royalties

Posted June 16, 2010 at 6:28pm

Need a lift? Try calling Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The California Democrat offered seats on her private flights home to at least three of her colleagues in 2009, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), according to their annual financial reports.

Both the House and the Senate released Members’ yearly financial disclosures on Wednesday, providing an overview of their individual holdings and debts for calendar year 2009, as well as a plethora of quirky details.

Both Reid and Boxer reported accepting a flight from Feinstein from Washington, D.C., to her home state of California on Christmas Eve 2009, the day the Senate passed its version of health care reform.

Each listed the trip with a value of $3,625 “in consultation with the Ethics Committee staff.”

Udall reported a “charter” flight with Feinstein from D.C. to Aspen, Colo., on July 31, along with one unidentified aide. He reported the value of that flight at $5,106, following guidelines provided by the Ethics Committee, his office said.

Feinstein’s office did not return a telephone call for comment Wednesday afternoon, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the plane is owned by her husband, investment banker Richard Blum. Feinstein is among the wealthiest Members of Congress, earning the ninth spot in Roll Call’s annual survey for calendar year 2008.

Although Senators and House Members are subject to strict limits on the gifts they may receive while in office, Members face no restrictions on gifts they may give to each other. But lawmakers must still disclose gifts on their annual disclosure form valued at more than $335.

Baseball Hall of Famer and Sen. Jim Bunning also reported an interesting gift: a 2009 World Series ring bestowed by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Kentucky Republican, a major league pitcher who played for the Phillies from 1964 to 1967 and 1970 to 1971, reported the ring’s value at $12,300.

“The Committee understands from your correspondence that the purpose of the gift is to thank former players who were influential in shaping the organization and is not related to your position as a United States Senator,” Senate Ethics Committee Chief Counsel John Sassaman wrote in a letter to Bunning permitting him to accept the gift.

Members are also allowed to accept certain “commemorative items,” such as plaques or other engraved awards.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) reported receiving a “Crystal Whirlpool Vase w/ engraving” from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities for his work in “higher education advocacy.” The vase, made by Steuben Glass, is valued at $2,117.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) likewise reported three awards for her attention to health care, telecommunications and hunger issues. She reported receiving a glass award, a glass trophy and an “engraved award,” respectively. The trophies were valued at a little less than $200 each.

Members must also report in their annual disclosures any payments they receive for articles, speeches or other appearances. Although Congress barred lawmakers from accepting honorariums in 1991, lawmakers are allowed to designate such payments for charities, rather than accept it themselves.

While Members often list such payments for speeches, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) continues to receive small payments — directed to the Community Foundation of Dallas — for her cameo appearance on a 1997 episode of the Chuck Norris television series “Walker, Texas Ranger.”

“These are royalty payments for when Sen. Hutchison made a guest appearance,” explained Hutchison spokeswoman Courtney Sanders. “Every time the show airs she gets paid.”

The fees, paid by Burbank, Calif.-based Entertainment Partners, totaled less than $35 in 2009.

House and Senate lawmakers are also required to detail their investments, which may range from blue chip stocks to real estate to business ventures.

In her newest disclosure, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) includes her husband’s numerous holdings in land and buildings, as well as a new investment: a one-sixth interest in a beauty salon in Dover, N.H.

The asset, valued at $15,000 to $50,000, generated no income in 2009. A Superpages.com listing for the shop, named the Salon, described it as “a progressive hair, skincare and tanning lounge.”

Members must also report their income from book royalties, offering a varied selection of book titles and receipts.

Pelosi raked in $102,000 in royalties for her book “Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters,” while Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) reported receiving $31,760 in royalties for his textbook “Internship, Practicum and Field Placement Handbook: A Guide for the Helping Professions.” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) reported income of $2,500 to $5,000 in royalties from her book “Renegade for Peace and Justice.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) also reaped the rewards of the written word, receiving $181.25 for an article in the Nation magazine, though these proceeds were donated to charity.

Paul Singer contributed to this report.