How Wealthy is Your Senator?

By ALBERT McKEON Telegraph Staff Writer

They promise to carry the country out of a deep financial hole.

They’ll review programs and spending measures that cost millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars.

So, can the six candidates running for three of New Hampshire’s federal offices manage their own finances?

Apparently so.

A review of the personal finance disclosure statements of the candidates reveals no fiscal woes within their households.

The Telegraph and two financial planners examined the incomes, debts and assets of the three Democrats and three Republicans running for Congress and found nothing to suggest they would mismanage the government’s coffers.

It’s “good to have financially responsible people from both parties running,” said Ron Valpey, a financial planner in Concord.

Democrat Ann McLane Kuster and Republicans Kelly Ayotte and Frank Guinta stand on good financial ground, the planners said.

Republican Charles Bass and Democrat Paul Hodes stand on even sounder financial ground, the experts said, with each candidate holding investments and assets worth near or more than $1 million.

“Bass and Hodes … are well off financially,” Valpey said. “And they’re doing smart things financially.”

Ayotte, Kuster and Guinta are worth less than Bass and Hodes, but they’ve invested wisely and show no signs of great financial stress, Valpey said.

Democrat Carol Shea-Porter was the only candidate whose finance disclosure forms didn’t provide enough information for an independent analysis of personal worth.

This doesn’t in any way suggest Shea-Porter is hiding anything; she followed the disclosure rules required of members of Congress. Her campaign manager, Robert Moller, pointed to how the disclosure records serve the purpose of showing whether representatives and senators have any conflicts of interest or whether any of their personal holdings could influence votes.

Statements reveal much, little

The ability of a disclosure statement to highlight potential conflicts was evident last week, when The Telegraph revealed Bass purchased stock in a wood pellet company owned by the husband of his niece either while serving as the 2nd Congressional District representative in 2006 or days after he relinquished the seat to Hodes in 2007.

In 2005, Bass wrote legislation that would give consumers tax credits on the purchase of wood-pellet stoves. The company also promoted in a newsletter how Bass later arranged a meeting with the U.S. commerce secretary.

On a disclosure form in March 2007, Bass wrote he purchased shares of the privately held New England Wood Pellet in January 2006 and November 2006. When asked last week about the transaction, Bass said the 2006 purchase dates were a mistake, and he provided a copy of a stock certificate that’s dated Jan. 9, 2007, six days after the 110th Congress convened without him.

Bass’ financial statements show the increasing worth of the company, regardless of when he agreed to buy the stock. On that 2007 form, Bass placed the value of the stock between $500,001 and $1 million. His most recent statement, from this August, places the value of the stock between $1,000,001 and $5 million.

If those bottom-line estimates of $500,001 and $1,000,001 seem uneven, that’s just the vagaries of a financial disclosure statement.

Other than having to provide specific earned income figures, candidates can list unearned income, assets and liabilities in columns with a wide dollar range.

Kuster, for instance, has credit card debt anywhere from $30,002 to $100,000, according to her most recent filing in May. Her campaign manager, Colin Van Ostern, said the debt is on the low end of $30,000 and reflects the demands of having two children in college.

Bass and Hodes

The wide range of most categories also makes it difficult to specify a candidate’s total net worth.

Still, the two financial analysts who reviewed the disclosure statements of Bass and Hodes concur that the two candidates have something in common other than facing off for the 2nd District seat in 2006: They both are wealthy.

The worth of Bass’ assets falls between $2.73 million and $8.80 million. Bass, who is now trying to reclaim his old seat, has no recorded debts.

He has property in Sharon and in Edgartown, Mass. – on Martha’s Vineyard – and holds stock in the wood pellet company, Ocean Bank and Verenium, a biofuels company for which Bass also indirectly did consulting work.

Working as a consultant for several outfits – including one run by two of his former congressional staffers – Bass earned $69,733 from January to May and $226,704 in 2009, according to his most recent filing.

He also had unearned income, from his stock and property holdings, of $5,204 to $11,200 from January to May.

“He definitely has solid advice,” Valpey said. “He’s in solid shape.”

Hodes has assets, including property in Lyme, bank accounts and stocks, valued between $846,809 and $1.38 million.

He also attached detailed stock portfolio appraisals to his 2008 and 2010 financial disclosure statements. The value of Hodes’ stock and bond portfolio, which The Telegraph included in his assets, was $344,805 at the end of 2009. He has stock in Apple, Berkshire Hathaway and IBM, among others.

Hodes has earned $174,000 annually as a U.S. representative. In 2009, he had $15,015 to $40,600 in unearned income from his various assets, and he has no recorded debt.

“He has a well-diversified portfolio,” said Valpey, who added that Hodes’ disclosure forms provided more information than any other of the six federal candidates.

A financial analyst in Nashua, who asked not to be named in this story, provided the same nonpartisan review of the candidates’ disclosure forms and essentially reached the same conclusions as Valpey.

Ayotte

Ayotte, a Nashua native who faces Hodes in the race for Judd Gregg’s Senate seat, filed a disclosure form in November. She recorded assets worth between $302,013 and $855,00 – including up to $100,000 in her state retirement pension – and unearned income of $2,501 to $5,000.

Her earned income included her $189,500 salary and final unclassified pay as state attorney general and more than $2,000 from her husband’s Air National Guard pay and landscaping business.

Ayotte’s financial liabilities fall between $190,012 and $475,000, and include a line of credit and truck and equipment loans mostly for her husband’s business.

Because candidates don’t have to specify a spouse’s income, it’s unknown how Ayotte’s husband’s company fared financially other than her listing that it drew more than $1,000. Valpey said it’s thus difficult to estimate her husband’s debt-to-income ratio or the family’s total net worth.

But Valpey added it’s Ayotte, not her husband, who’s running for office.

Ayotte appears to be in good financial shape overall with diverse holdings, Valpey said.

Kuster

For the first five months of 2010, Kuster earned $46,153 for her work as an attorney for Rath, Young and Pignatelli, and her husband earned an estimated $25,000 for his work as a lawyer – a total of $71,153.

Kuster, who opposes Bass in the 2nd Congressional District race, also earned a minimum of $35,000 for lobbying for seven companies and organizations in the last two years. Each reporting meant she was paid at least $5,000 for each representation.

She owns property with her husband in Jackson, and has a third of a share of ownership in a cottage in Hebron, the two properties having a combined value between $350,002 and $750,000.

Her stock and bond portfolio had a value of $497,879 as of June 2009. She had $8,503 to $22,500 in unearned income from those assets.

Kuster’s mortgage on the Jackson property is between $100,000 and $250,000, and the credit card debt from two banks is between $30,002 and $100,000, according to her disclosure statement.

Even if, contrary to the campaign’s “low end” estimate, Kuster’s debt is higher, it’s still “not a concern” when weighed against her income and assets, Valpey said. He added that her overall fiscal health “looks good.”

Guinta

Guinta made news this summer over an omission on his financial disclosure statement.

After being questioned by The Telegraph about his finances and loans to his 1st Congressional District campaign, Guinta acknowledged that for the last two years, he hadn’t included $250,000 to $500,000 in accounts he had with Bank of America.

He said they were honest mistakes, but Democrats have questioned where the money came from.

Guinta also said he had loaned his campaign $245,000, but that it was his own funds.

He earned $72,000 in his last year as mayor of Manchester, according to his personal disclosure statement covering January 2009 to April 2010.

Guinta reported assets of $856,018 to $1.92 million, and unearned income of $16,006 to $55,000 from those assets.

His liabilities include two mortgages and two college loans, totaling between $280,003 and $600,000.

Based on an appraisal of Guinta’s statements, Valpey said the candidate appears to be “doing a good job balancing his personal finances with running for office.”

Shea-Porter

The incumbent of the 1st Congressional District, Shea-Porter, didn’t have enough information on her form for Valpey and the other analyst to make an assessment of her financial status.

Like Hodes, she makes $174,000 annually from her U.S. House salary. She didn’t disclose the salary of her husband, an IRS employee.

Shea-Porter also had assets, mostly through the government retirement plan and a U.S. savings bond, valued at $2,000 to $30,000.

Moller, Shea-Porter’s campaign manager, said a reason why there isn’t a vast amount of assets on her financial disclosure form is because “she is from the middle class. That’s probably why.”

Click here to return to Investigative Reporting page

© 2010, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire