Stephanie M. Peters wrote this story with Scripps Howard News Service Washington reporter Trish Choate.
WASHINGTON – Some members of the Lone Star delegation to Congress boast Texas-sized stock portfolios,big spreads and rental property that land them firmly on the far side of the wealthy.
Others list liabilities like children's student loans,ranching debt and charge accounts that put them in the hole by thousands,according to the latest annual financial disclosure reports.
Abilene's Rep. Randy Neugebauer and Big Country neighbor Rep. Mike Conaway,both Republicans,are among the richest Texans in Congress.
But Rep. Michael McCaul,R-Austin,is No. 1. His net worth is $17.6 million to $76.3 million.
''Clearly,we're in the habit of electing lots of wealthy candidates,'' Jim Henson,director of the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Politics project,said. ''But I think it's very context specific. In a lot of cases,it's a lot more about where the money comes from than how much they have.”
The delegation,as a whole,is heavily weighted in the direction of posh bottom lines.
A Scripps Howard computer-assisted analysis of 33 reports filed by Texans in Congress put McCaul at the top,thanks mostly to his wife's assets. One member's report was not available from the House Legislative Resource Center at the time of analysis.
The wide ranges of the financial items,as well as exceptions to disclosure rules,mean the reports don't give a truly accurate picture of worth. For instance,members don't report their government salaries – typically $165,200 a year.
''On the other hand,this does give you at least a broad sense of whether a member is very wealthy or heavily in debt or their finances look more like yours or mine,'' Shelia Krumholz,executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington,said. Most of McCaul's assets are his wife Linda's. She is the daughter of Lowry Mays,chairman of the board of media giant Clear Channel Communications Inc.
Linda McCaul owns $5 million to $25 million in Clear Channel stock.
One or more of their five children owns $1 million to $5 million in the company's stock,according to McCaul's report. The congressman owns none.
Still,what was McCaul's reaction to the news he's the wealthiest Lone Star member?
“It speaks for itself,” McCaul spokesman Jack Hirschfield said.
Out of the entire House and Senate,he was No. 18 in net worth in 2005,according to the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis of last year's reports.
Neugebauer,R-Lubbock,weighs in at No. 4 in Texas with a net worth of $5.4 million to $16 million.
The 19th Congressional District representative and wife,Dana,are apparently successful land developers with rental property and a fat stock portfolio.
Conaway,R-Midland,ranks No. 6 at $2.6 million to $6.8 million in net worth. Investments fuel the finances of the certified public accountant,formerly chief financial officer for a Midland,Texas,oil company owned by President Bush.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn,both Republicans,are in the black.
Hutchison is No. 9 and has a net worth of $3.8 million to $6.2 million. A book advance of $41,666 from Harper Collins was among her assets. ''Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers” will be out in late October.
Cornyn is No. 23 and is worth between about $108,000 and $395,000.
Just four members appear to have more debts than assets. But one of those,Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson,D-Dallas,reported a blind trust.
The third Big Country congressman,Rep. Mac Thornberry,is next to last in net worth.
The Republican from Clarendon is in the red from $12,999 to $20,000,thanks mostly to a cattle loan of about $100,000 to $250,000 for Thornberry Brothers Cattle Partnership. He has one-third ownership in the outfit with his brothers.
His comparatively humble situation might be just what puts him first with voters on Election Day,just as McCaul's wealth does.
''Michael McCaul is a very familiar kind of candidate in a way to the people in his district,just like Thornberry is a very familiar candidate in his district,'' Henson said.
The Austin congressman is from a more affluent sprawl district,Henson said.
Thornberry hails from ranching-and-farming minded West Texas.
He makes no bones about his finances.
''Of course,you're right. We don't have a bunch of stock,mutual funds or any of that sort of stuff,” Thornberry said.
He cautioned that the purpose of a financial disclosure report is to divulge potential conflicts of interest.
''You've got to remember what it's for and the limitations on what has to be disclosed,what doesn't and the wide ranges of categories,'' Thornberry said.
At the very bottom of the ranking is Rep. Louie Gohmert,R-Tyler.
The East Texan outdoes Thornberry with a negative net worth of $150,000 to $350,000.
A former district and state appeals court judge,he reported consolidated student loans of $150,000 to $350,000 for three children.
About the reports
WASHINGTON – Every member of Congress must file a financial disclosure report each year at the House Legislative Resources Center on Capitol Hill.
The report can shed light on possible conflicts of interest and give a general idea of earnings outside annual government salaries – $165,200 for rank and file members.
But assets,liabilities and other information about the member,his or her spouse and dependants' finances are listed in broad ranges such as $500,001 to $1,000,000.
The reports aren't meant to be very specific,Shelia Krumholz,executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington,said.
They're just representative of net worth,considering filers are allowed to exclude things such as mortgages,properties not making money and a spouse's salary,Krumholz said.
The Ethics Committee reviews the reports before they're released in June.