Welcome To The Poor House

They are among the most powerful people in Washington, but leaders of the House of Representatives are far from the wealthiest, according to 1999 financial disclosure statements released Thursday.

As varied as the 435-member House itself, the forms show a broad range of income and assets, from church preaching to thoroughbred horses to wine grapes, as well as debt from credit cards and children's college tuition.

Majority Leader Dick Armey, second in command among House Republicans, ranks near the bottom in personal wealth even though his salary, at $151,800, is very high by national standards. Rank and file House members make $136,700.

Armey, R-Texas, a former college professor, has no assets beyond a checking account and only supplements his salary with a $2,400 annual teacher's pension.

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., owned greater assets than other House leaders, but also had significant liabilities.

He valued a 270-acre farm in Shipman, Ill., a townhouse in Washington and a Plainfield, Ill., building each at $100,000 to $250,000. But he still owed between $50,000 and $100,000 on each of those properties.

Lawmakers are required to report the value of their assets, income and debts only within broad ranges.

They show income from all types of sources. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., listed as assets held jointly with her husband two California vineyards, each worth up to $5 million and each producing rental income.

Rep. Robert Goodling, R-Pa., listed interest in eight thoroughbred horses worth a total of $20,500, including a colt named Mister Goodie and a filly called Lady of Dover, valued at $3,000 each.

Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, made $23,500 by signing football cards and donated $1,500 of it to charity.

Another former football star and Southern Baptist preacher, Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., was paid more than $19,000 for appearances at 19 churches around the country. The former University of Oklahoma quarterback and Canadian football player took 28 all-expense-paid trips, including one to the Fiesta Bowl football game paid for by the game's organizers.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., listed a mutual fund worth $15,000 to $50,000 and four other funds valued between $1,000 and $15,000.

But Gephardt also carried major liabilities, including two student loans for his children. He owed between $50,000 and $100,000 on one student loan, $15,000-$50,000 on a second and also borrowed $15,000-$50,000 on his life insurance policy.

College costs were a common liability. Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., attached a separate letter noting that his financial picture "continues to be affected by education expenses for a fourth year." Tuition for his son and daughter reached a combined $30,000 in 1999 and both are going on to graduate school.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., member of a famous and wealthy political amily, reported $15,001-$50,000 in debts on his American Express card despite mutual funds worth at least $195,000 and income from trust funds.

House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, on the other hand, did not list any liabilities. DeLay valued his Exxon stock between $50,000 and $100,000 and had a bank account worth between $1,000 and $15,000.

The No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan, had one of the busier travel schedules with 12 trips paid for by others, including an AFL-CIO meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a trip to China sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

Bonior listed only two assets, a credit union account and a bank account each valued at less than $1,000, but his wife had additional holdings.

The third-ranking Democrat, Texas Rep. Martin Frost, listed investments in more than a dozen blue chip stocks such as Exxon, Coca-Cola and General Electric. He earned varying amounts from dividends and sales of the stock, none higher than $15,000.

Among the wealthier set, the retiring chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, attached a detailed financial statement to his report listing assets of $3.3 million and no liabilities.

In addition to Microsoft and Intel stock, Archer reported owning a 1987 Dodge truck worth $2,000, a 1988 Mercedes valued at $24,000, a 1998 Jeep Cherokee at $20,000 and a tractor worth $17,000. He valued his coin collection at its cost: $16,326.

Another highly detailed statement, pages and pages of investments as thick as a city phone book, was filed by Rep. Robert Clement, D-Tenn. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., also filed a doorstop-size report that went far beyond the legal requirements.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., listed the dozens of trinkets a Congress member gets. Among them: a stuffed animal, hats, pens, plaques, a box of Alka-Seltzer, a cake, a mouse pad, chips and salsa, calendars, cologne and "18 ears of corn and three tomatoes."