Disclosure forms show Senate made up mostly of the wealthy

While Sarbanes avoids mutual funds and CDs, Mikulski an active investor

June 12, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, the most senior Democrat on the Senate committee that regulates the banking and securities industries, appears to have passed up the financial boom of the 1990s that has boosted the wealth of much of the nation's middle class.

Unlike many senators, including Barbara A. Mikulski, his fellow Maryland Democrat, Sarbanes has not invested in individual stocks, bonds, mutual funds or certificates of deposit.

Insight into finances

Details of the senators' personal finances were disclosed yesterday in an annual rite that often puts lawmakers on edge. Because of the intentionally imprecise nature of the disclosure forms -- they list broad ranges for the value of individual assets, not specific amounts -- it is impossible to determine the senators' precise wealth. But it is possible to gain some insight into how these politicians who shape federal policies manage their finances.

Sen. Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, lists almost no assets -- just a retirement fund from being a state lawmaker and two modest college funds for his children.

Nevertheless, the Senate is disproportionately populated by the wealthy: About a third of the 100 senators are thought to be millionaires.

Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, is owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team and held a blind trust worth more than $50 million that earned him $5 million last year. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a freshman Illinois Republican, had holdings of between $25.6 million and $51.5 million, mostly from money he inherited after his father sold a chain of banks.

Though her assets fall far below those levels, Mikulski is a much more active investor than Sarbanes. In addition to her Senate salary of $136,700, she lists income of $9,914 to $33,608 on investment holdings of between $173,000 and $470,000. Mikulski's investments last year included an array of mutual funds, money market funds, IRA accounts, checking and savings accounts, and CDs.

Royalties, TV movie rights

She also reported making $10,500 on royalties, advances and television movie rights related to her two murder mysteries involving Norie Gorzack, the fictional sleuthing senator from Pennsylvania. While members of Congress are barred from performing almost any work for pay while in office, they are allowed to receive book royalties.

Mikulski's spokeswoman, Johanna Ramos-Boyer, declined to disclose the specific worth of the senator's holdings beyond the ranges set out in the documents.

Beyond his salary, Sarbanes reported earnings of between $3,700 and $8,500 on holdings ranging from $67,000 to $180,000. Those assets include a private life insurance plan, an account at a federal credit union, a savings account and Sarbanes' stake in the Maryland state retirement system from his days as a state legislator in the 1960s. In addition, he lists his house in Baltimore, valued between $100,000 and $250,000. The senator's wife, Christine Sarbanes, earns an undisclosed salary as a teacher at the private Gilman School in Baltimore.

By contrast, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a former economics professor who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, listed 15 investments worth $881,000 to $2.19 million and real estate worth $120,000 to $400,000 more. Gramm's wife is also a paid director on several corporate boards.

Jesse Jacobs, Sarbanes' spokesman, would not comment on the senator's holdings. "His private finances are just that -- his private finances," Jacobs said.

Pension earnings

Sarbanes, the son of Greek immigrants who ran a diner in Salisbury, has no claim to family wealth. But the veteran lawmaker, first elected to Congress in 1970, may feel insulated from the vagaries of the financial markets by the sizable federal pension he stands to earn. If he were to retire at the end of his current Senate term, in January 2001 -- he says he intends to run for another six-year term -- Sarbanes would receive an annual pension worth $101,000.

Sarbanes, who lives modestly, travels widely and comfortably at the expense of not-for-profit groups -- more often than most of his peers in the Senate. He has repeatedly visited Europe and has also traveled to Asia, -- most recently for an April conference in China, courtesy of the Aspen Institute, a trip that cost $7,940.

Ric Edelman, a financial planner whose clients have included members of Congress, said so many senators are so wealthy that he wonders whether they have lost touch with their constituents' concerns. But he also suggested that it was fair to ask whether lawmakers such as Sarbanes who avoid investing in stocks and bonds can identify with the increasing number of Americans who are deeply affected by the financial markets.

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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