Sen. Bob Bennett says his personal net worth plummeted $10 million in the past year.
But the Utah Republican says he's not worried. He says it happened because value of his stocks dipped (temporarily, he hopes), and because risky start-up businesses that he poured money into aren't worth much yet - but he hopes they will be soon.And even though he says he's now worth around $20 million - down from his estimate of $30 million a year earlier - he acknowledges he likely didn't have to pay any income tax last year because, well, he had negative income instead of positive.
Bennett's loss is only one interesting tidbit emerging from personal financial disclosure forms for members of Congress and candidates, which were officially released Friday.
The forms also show that seven of the 12 Utah congressional incumbents and challengers could be millionaires. Ironically, they seek to represent, or already do, the state with the nation's fourth lowest per-person income.
Also amid Bennett's declining worth, 3rd District Republican House candidate Chris Cannon is now probably the richest among the group. He said he is worth more than $20 million.
And Rep. Enid Greene, R-Utah, who in past years appeared to be among the wealthiest until scandal disclosed that riches claimed by her and her now fraud-convicted ex-husband do not really exist, is now clearly the poorest.
Her net worth (not counting a home that was later sold, or cars, which are not required to be included on forms) was between -$28,003 and -$161,997 at the end of 1995. That included between $65,002 and $150,000 she owed in unpaid income taxes.
Disclosure forms require politicians to reveal their finances only within broad ranges. For example, boxes checked on Bennett's forms add up to show his net worth to be in the laughably broad range of - $8.64 million to a positive $41.64 million.
"I assure you that it is positive," he joked in an interview, and said he estimates he is worth around $20 million.
Part of the problem, he explained, is that the value of his stock in Franklin Quest - a time-planner company he helped build - dropped. Documents he attached to his disclosure form showed it dropped from $29.87 a share at the end of 1994 to $19.50 a share at the end of 1995.
"I'm optimistic that it will go back up," he said. Bennett added that he estimates his Franklin Quest stock is worth $13 million to $15 million at current market prices.
Also, Bennett has taken out large "margin" loans against his stock holdings to invest venture capital in start-up businesses through a trust managed without his control (to comply with ethics rules) by managers he picked.
He said placing a value on those new businesses is difficult. "They are losing money, and at the moment you could say they are worthless. But they are performing according to their projections. So in five years, they could become bigger than Franklin."
Forms showed Bennett paid $455,188 in interest on his margin loans last year - or much more than his total income of between $230,855 and $256,749 (including his Senate salary of $133,600, and most of the rest coming from investment income).
With that plus charitable contributions he makes, the multimillionaire acknowledged, "I likely didn't have to pay any income tax last year."
Bennett said he took out margin loans for his investments in start-up businesses instead of selling stock to pay for it because capital gains taxes would take about a third of the profit from such stock sales.
"So to get $2.7 million to invest, I'd have to sell about $4 million in stock - and because I'd have to pay tithing, I'd have to sell even more."
He said as long as the investments yield more over the long run than the 9.5 percent annual interest he is charged on margin loans, "it is a wise investment. If they don't, it could be disastrous." But, he adds, such dealing is how he made his millions.
Fellow Republican and millionaire Merrill Cook, who is running in the 2nd House district, joked of Bennett's loss, "That is the sign of an honest politician. You worry about the ones who are elected and suddenly become rich, not those who lose money."
The other possible millionaires in the delegation, in order of wealth suggested on forms or in interviews are: Cannon; Cook; 2nd District Republican R. Todd Neilson; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah; and 3rd District Republican Tom Draschil.
Likely non-millionaires in descending order of apparent net worth are: 2nd District Democrat Ross Anderson; Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah; 2nd District Democrat Kelly Atkinson; 1st District Democrat Greg Sanders; and Greene.
The accompanying chart offers a more detailed look at the finances of each.