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Some Lawmakers at the Bottom of Wealth Survey in 2008 Moved Upward in Roll Call's Latest Tally

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) nabbed the title of poorest Member of Congress in Roll Call’s annual survey of lawmakers’ fortunes, but he should know there’s hope for getting off the bottom rung of the Congressional wealth ladder.

While a review of the annual financial disclosure forms filed by House Members and Senators finds many of the same names once again among Congress’ less-moneyed Members, at least a few lawmakers escaped the ranks of the financially ne’er-do-well.

Among House Members, Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) boosted their respective minimum net worth in 2009, breaking away from their previous finish among the poorest 50 lawmakers in their chamber.

Fallin’s minimum net worth rose to $1.52 million in calendar year 2009, her most recent report. The Oklahoma lawmaker noted she now claims new assets, including her spouse’s Oklahoma farm and ranch valued at $1 million to $5 million, citing her November 2009 marriage.

According to her previous disclosure, Fallin claimed a minimum net worth of just $3,000. Her largest asset, a bank account worth $15,000 to $50,000 was offset by credit card debt of $15,000 to $50,000.

When Roll Call ranked every House lawmaker’s wealth in November 2009, Chu tallied a negative-$1,000 personal wealth, based on the form that she filed as a House candidate.

Between omitting nearly $500,000 worth of assets on her initial 2008 form ‘ which she amended in July ‘ and dropping a mortgage worth $100,000 to $250,000 that she was not required to report in 2009, Chu’s net wealth jumped to $897,000 in her most recent report.

Roll Call calculates Members’ minimum net worth based solely on the information included in their annual financial disclosure forms.

While Members are required to report investments such as stocks, bonds, bank accounts and revenue-generating real estate, much of their wealth is shielded from public view ‘ including any number of homes, so long as the properties do not produce rental income. Lawmakers must also report their debts in a similar fashion.

Members report their wealth in broad ranges, varying from $1 to $1,000 up to more than $50 million.

Roll Call determines a Member’s minimum net worth based on the lowest number in the range selected for each asset ‘ for example, an asset worth $1 million to $5 million would be evaluated at $1 million ‘ and subtracting the lowest total liabilities.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) continues to be the poorest House Member, with a negative net worth of $2.13 million, on par with his previous report.

Hastings is saddled with more than $2.1 million in legal debt, which he incurred in the 1980s when he was acquitted of taking bribes as a federal judge in Florida but ultimately impeached by Congress.

Other indigent ‘ at least on paper ‘ lawmakers include Reps. John Salazar (D-Colo.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

While Salazar reported owning nearly 1,200 acres of Colorado farmland valued at $1 million to $5 million ‘ with income of at least $100,000 annually ‘ a bank loan in the same amount negates the property’s value. His only other asset, a bank account worth at least $1,000, is outweighed by two additional loans and a line of credit worth a combined $450,000.

Stupak likewise reported more than $200,000 in various investments, but his net wealth is outpaced by a mortgage worth $500,000 to $1 million on property in Menominee, Mich. Along with a smaller mortgage valued at at least $15,000, Stupak’s minimum net worth dropped to a negative-$303,000.

Numerous lawmakers also end up in the red thanks to student loans, whether for themselves or their dependents.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) reported no assets, but he listed consolidated student loans of $50,000 to $100,000 for three children. He also listed a personal loan in the same amount.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) reported both he and his wife owe student loans valued at $15,000 to $50,000 each. Along with personal loans and credit card debt, the Pennsylvania lawmaker reported at least $90,000 in liabilities but only $17,000 in assets.

Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) continues to report student loans with a combined value of at least $30,000 ‘ which landed him among the poorest Members with a negative net worth in last year’s tally ‘ but a newly reported life insurance policy valued at $500,000 to $1 million elevates him into the Congressional middle class.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) continue to populate the low end of the Senate’s wealth hierarchy.

Pryor doubled the number of assets he listed in 2009, reporting two bank accounts, the largest of which has a value of $1,000 to $15,000. An account held by Pryor’s dependent child dropped to a value of less than $1,000 in 2009. Pryor listed no liabilities.

Stabenow increased her minimum net worth to nothing in 2009 ‘ reporting no assets and no liabilities ‘ an increase over the negative $15,000 that she posted the previous year, when she reported only a credit line and no assets.

In the meantime, Kohl became the poorest lawmaker on Capitol Hill in 2009, even though the Senator is still probably one of the wealthiest lawmakers in Congress.

The reporting categories that lawmakers use to report their assets limit the largest minimum value Members may place on any asset to ‘over $50 million.’

The Wisconsin lawmaker, who owns the Milwaukee Bucks, marks that category when he annually reports the value of his NBA franchise, although the team’s value is likely much higher. Forbes estimated in December 2009 that the team, the least valuable in the NBA, is worth $254 million and carries a debt of $22 million.

The low value for his NBA investment, combined with the addition of two new loans valued at $5 million to $25 million canceled out Kohl’s assets in 2009, rendering him $4.65 million in the red, according to his annual report.

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