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New tool helps track congressional assets

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Congressional members and candidates must disclose their personal financial assets as a check on possible conflicts of interest.

That disclosure also lets inquiring minds get a sense of how wealthy those people are. Determining that wealth once entailed poring over pages of filings and adding up assets, reported as value ranges.

That task now is much easier.

MapLight, a California-based nonpartisan research group, has spent the better part of a year entering data from those filings to create a Personal Financial Disclosures Database for members of Congress. The numbers for 2012 and 2013, the most recent reported, now are available.

The 2013 report for Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan fills 17 pages. Ryan and his wife reported 109 holdings worth between $2.3 million and $8.8 million. Last year, those assets generated between $74,000 and $245,000 in income.

In all, Wisconsin’s eight House members and two senators reported assets worth between $54 million and $171 million. Those holdings generated income between $1.2 million and $7.4 million in 2013.

The tallies include GOP Rep. Tom Petri, who is leaving Congress after 36 years. It will be a poorer place without him, on average.

Petri led the state’s congressional delegation with reported 2013 assets of between $16 million and $69 million, according to the MapLight database. He has landed in the hot seat over alleged conflicts related to those holdings.

On Sept. 30, the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics released a report finding “substantial reason to believe that Rep. Petri improperly performed official acts on behalf of companies in which he had a financial interest, in violation of House rules and standards of conduct.” The office called for further investigation.

Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., speaks May 3 at the Republican Party of Wisconsin State Convention in Milwaukee. According to the MapLight database, a new tool to track assets or members of Congress, Petri led the state’s congressional delegation with assets of between $16 million and $69 million in 2013. He is leaving Congress after 36 years, but his conflicts related to those assets have put him in the hot seat. (AP photo by Jeffrey Phelps)

Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., speaks May 3 at the Republican Party of Wisconsin State Convention in Milwaukee. According to the MapLight database, a new tool to track assets or members of Congress, Petri led the state’s congressional delegation with assets of between $16 million and $69 million in 2013. He is leaving Congress after 36 years, but his conflicts related to those assets have put him in the hot seat. (AP photo by Jeffrey Phelps)

In one case Petri helped defend Oshkosh Corp., in which he owns between $500,000 and $1 million in stock, against challenges to a $3 billion defense contract. He said he “checked every step” with the House Ethics Committee. But according to the report, Petri at times supplied “incomplete or inaccurate information.”

Petri, who requested the investigation, told the National Journal the findings were biased and untrue.

When Petri leaves, it’s unclear who will be Wisconsin’s richest congressperson. Republican Jim Sensenbrenner reported 2013 assets of between $19.6 million and $27 million, and Sen. Ron Johnson had between $13.5 million and $60.2 million, according to MapLight.

The state’s other GOP reps lag far behind. Reid Ribble had between $1.2 million and $2.7 million in assets. Petri’s successor, Glenn Grothman, reported between $662,000 and $1.7 million. And Sean Duffy weighed in at between $55,000 and $175,000.

Democrat Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin’s junior senator, had assets worth between $500,000 and $1.1 million. The state’s wealthiest congressional Democrat, Ron Kind, had between $1 million and $2.3 million.

Democratic Reps. Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan each reported 2013 investments of $0. Moore never has scored high in that category and has been selling off assets in recent years.

Pocan’s impoverished status is harder to fathom. For 2012, Pocan reported assets of between $352,000 and $780,000. Pocan’s chief of staff, Glenn Wavrunek, said that mistakenly included a residence he did not have to report and some stocks he has since sold.

Pocan’s stake in his longtime business, Budget Signs & Specialties, was reported in 2012 as being worth between $250,000 and $500,000. This year, he gave its value as “undetermined,” explaining that “as a closely held small business it is very hard to determine an accurate value.”

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