Lawmakers detail finances during year of scandal
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers caught up in ethics investigations have plenty of cash – just in case they someday face hefty lawyers’ bills.
House and Senate members detailed their finances Wednesday in the midst of public and government scrutiny of certain dealings that have caused Congress’ popularity to drop.
The reports require lawmakers to list last year’s assets and debts, along with any income beyond the $162,100 salary for the rank-and-file House and Senate members. Rules require lawmakers to donate their speaking fees to charity and to limit gifts from any individual to $100 in a year.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., holds blind trusts worth $7.5 million to $36 million. He reported making $5 million last year from the largest, worth between $5 million to $25 million.
Frist faces a Securities and Exchange Commission insider trading investigation over selling stock in a hospital company his family founded. He denies any wrongdoing and said he ordered the sales to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest as he considers running for president in 2008.
Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., founder and chairman of Blue Ridge Savings and Loan in Asheville, N.C., reported stock in a holding company for the bank worth more than $50 million. He also purchased 80 percent of a Russian bank and founded a Russian investment company.
State Democrats have called for congressional ethics and conflict of interest investigations into Taylor’s banking activities and links to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in a federal bribery investigation.
Republican Tom DeLay of Texas, who resigned his House seat last week, showed his legal troubles have led him into sizable debt. DeLay reported owing $250,001 to $500,000 to four separate lawyers and law firms.
DeLay also reported individual and corporate contributions to a legal defense fund worth $588,320. He has predicted that legal bills will cost him $3 million.
Not every lawmaker under ethical scrutiny, who might amass large legal bills, can count on large bank accounts.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, under investigation at the Justice Department and the House ethics committee for his ties to Abramoff, reported no major assets or liabilities, nor any major outside sources of unearned income.
Ney, one of the recipients of an Abramoff golfing trip to Scotland, also reported no privately funded travel. He and his staff have said they stopped allowing any outside groups to pay for trips.
Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., under investigation by the FBI for bribery, owns two tracts of farmland in Louisiana, each worth $50,001 to $100,000. He’s also owed $100,001 to $250,000 each from his mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns, as well as $50,001 to $100,000 from “Jefferson Interests.”
Jefferson also reported three major liabilities. He owes between $50,001 and $100,000 each to Dryades Bank and Noah Samara, chairman and CEO of Worldspace Satellite Radio. He also has a $15,001 to $50,000 loan from Liberty Bank of New Orleans.
The FBI claims agents found $90,000 in bribe money stashed in Jefferson’s home freezer. Jefferson has not been indicted and has denied all wrongdoing in connection with a federal investigation.
Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., this week acknowledged some inaccuracies in past financial statements and amended reports dating back to 2000, but he has denied improperly benefiting from his office. He reported owning part or all of properties in West Virginia, Washington and North Carolina, and he earned rent from several of those properties.
Books proved a lucrative source of income for multiple lawmakers.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., earned $103,095 in royalties for “Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant President.” He used the money to pay for medical care for his wife, Erma, who died in March, spokesman Tom Gavin said.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., made $872,891 from her memoir, “Living History.” She has reported earning $8.7 million from the work in prior years. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., reported royalties and a book advance. He revealed that with permission of the Senate Ethics Committee, he agreed with Random House to a $1.9 million advance against royalties for writing two nonfiction books and one children’s book. He intends to donate $200,000 to charity.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., received an advance of $42,500 to write a book titled, “Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain Dead Politics is Selling Out America.” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., earned $5,175 in royalties for a reprinting of his 2003 book, “A Call to Service.”
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., received royalties worth $15,001 to $50,000 from publication of “Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years of Coaching and Politics.” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., received a partial book advance of $106,210.
Some lawmakers were lucky last year. House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, took home $2,700 in slot machine winnings. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., won an $853,492 share of a $340 million multistate Powerball lottery jackpot.