Members of the firebrand class of Republican freshmen on Capitol Hill — elected on a pledge to attack the U.S. debt problem — have, in some cases, accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt, according to financial documents.
WASHINGTON — Members of the firebrand class of Republican freshmen on Capitol Hill — elected on a pledge to attack the U.S. debt problem — have, in some cases, accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt, according to financial documents.
Among the 87 new GOP lawmakers, the documents show, at least 30 had liabilities totaling $50,000 or more in 2010.
Those debts included large mortgages on investment properties, as well as student loans and credit-card balances. At least seven freshmen had credit-card debt exceeding $15,000.
The documents present the most complete financial picture to date of a group that promised to tackle the nation’s debt and to remake Washington, D.C., with the values of the heartland. Judging from members’ bank accounts, the freshman class has elements of both places.
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It has brought at least 24 new millionaires to a Congress that had plenty. Yet, many freshmen, like thousands of ordinary Americans, entered 2011 in debt.
“If they’re responsible for their own personal finances, then they may have a mind set to be frugal with the federal Treasury,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “But if they can’t keep their personal finances in order, then you have to wonder how they’re going to handle the federal budget.”
Among those with credit-card debt was Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who has rejected any increase in the debt limit without major spending cuts.
“Like the rest of America,” said a statement issued by Farenthold this year, “the government needs to tighten its belt and work within its means.”
Farenthold’s 2010 disclosure forms show credit-card debt of $45,000 to $150,000. A spokeswoman for the congressman said she could not comment, because she had not located his accountant to discuss the filing.
The documents, released Wednesday, are annual disclosure forms, on which all lawmakers are required to list income, assets, liabilities, stock trades and other data. They are an imperfect way to measure true wealth because they do not list exact amounts of assets or debts, only ranges. And they do not include mortgages on nonincome properties.
Among longtime lawmakers, the forms illuminated one of Washington’s oldest truisms: Many of the most powerful figures have significant wealth.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a former plastics executive, reported financial holdings of at least $2 million. His top deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., was worth at least $3.4 million. Cantor’s wife serves on the boards of Domino’s Pizza and a major media company.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, is worth at least $1 million, much of it from his wife’s family holdings in an Oklahoma mining company and an Oklahoma gravel company.
The House’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and her husband, Paul, a San Francisco real-estate magnate and financial investor, were worth at least $42 million.
Among 96 House members elected in 2010, the picture is incomplete: Twenty-three filed for an extension.
Among those who did file reports are some with considerable wealth. Rep. Stevan Pearce, R-N.M., a former oil-field services executive, listed at least $8 million in assets. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., a lawyer, listed more than $2 million. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., whose company sells Native American pottery, showed at least $2.9 million.
Among the nine Democratic House freshmen, three had assets topping $1 million: Massachusetts Rep. William Keating, Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline and Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
In other cases, the disclosure forms showed freshman lawmakers had been living on more modest means. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., who squeaked to victory with tea-party backing, reported his assets might be as low as $3,004. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., reported his assets might be as low as $36,036.
Among those with significant debt was Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, R-Tenn., who has been accused of playing down his debt. The disclosure documents show he is carrying $1.6 million to $6.4 million in loans relating to his family’s 2,500-acre farm in Frog Jump, Tenn.
A spokesman for Fincher said the loans are not an indication that Fincher has a problem with debt.
“I think quite the contrary,” said lawyer Elliot Berke, who noted that the loans finance farming operations and that some were taken out by Fincher’s father and cosigned by the lawmaker.
“Sure, if you look at the raw numbers, it looks like there’s … over $1 million in debt,” Berke said. “But that’s not really the way farming works.”