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Lawmakers' finances under scrutiny

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and numerous other lawmakers whose financial dealings have been questioned were under scrutiny as House and Senate lawmakers disclosed their finances Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, under federal investigation for possible insider trading, will have a nice nest egg to fall back on when he retires from Congress in January, recording income last year of more than $5 million from his largest blind trust.

Frist, R-Tenn., is hardly the richest member of the millionaires’ club of Congress, but he and numerous other lawmakers whose financial dealings have been questioned were under scrutiny as House and Senate lawmakers disclosed their finances Wednesday.

Popular opinion of Congress has plummeted this year as one former House member, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., went to jail for taking more than $2 million in bribes, another, Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., is under investigation after $90,000 in alleged bribe money was found in his freezer and several others are under a cloud because of ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The disclosure forms, of course, give little indication of possible unscrupulous activity, listing salaries — $162,100 in 2005 for a rank-and-file House and Senate member — and details of a lawmaker’s assets, outside income, travel and losses. Speaking fees must be donated to charity, gifts are limited to $100 from any individual in a year and outside income can be no more than 15 percent of salary.

Glimpse into private lives
But the forms still provide a glimpse of private lives. Frist, a heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, had a good year with income from his largest blind trust, worth between $5 million and $25 million, bringing him more than $5 million. He paid off a line of credit worth between $1 million and $5 million and listed a new money market account worth $1 million to $5 million.

Federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Frist’s order last year to sell all his stock in HCA Inc., the hospital company founded by his father and brother. Frist denies he had any insider information about the stock, which lost 9 percent in value two weeks after the sale.

Frist’s House counterpart, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has also prospered since his days as a high school wrestling coach. He owns shares in farms in Illinois and Wisconsin, one valued at up to $5 million. Last year, he had unearned income of $15,000 to $50,000 in royalties from publication of a book and received a $32,529 pension from the state of Illinois.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who also has had to defend himself over his support of Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, reported various assets valued in the $1 million range, including 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., land holdings in Nevada, municipal bonds and mining claims.

A friend who died last year left Reid and his wife, Landra, his half-interest in the 18-acre Dubuque Mining Claim in their hometown of Searchlight, Nev. The Reids already owned the other half.

Book royalties, speaking appearances
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., reported a Citibank account she shares with her spouse, Bill Clinton, worth $5 million to $25 million and a blind trust valued at the same amount. Former President Clinton earned nearly $7.5 million in speaking appearances in 2005, a big boost from the previous year when bypass surgery and a book deadline kept him home.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has tens of millions from family trust funds, earned $50,000 in royalties for a children’s book about his dog, “My Senator and Me.”

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., whose re-election bid has become harder because of the $150,000 in donations he received from Abramoff and his clients, said his major assets were a credit union account and mutual fund, both valued between $50,001 and $100,000.

Burns returned the Abramoff money or donated it to charity.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who succeeded Tom DeLay, R-Texas, as majority leader after DeLay was indicted on money laundering charges, claimed $1 million to $5 million in assets from the plastics and packaging company he operated before his election to Congress. He also reported $2,700 in slot machine winnings.

Not all lawmakers were rolling in wealth. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, reported joint bank account interest of $201 to $1,000 as a major source of unearned income.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has raised millions as head of the Senate Democratic fundraising committee, says he drives a 2001 Ford Taurus and has no savings or investment worth more than $50,000.