- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

Almost half of the incoming members of Congress are millionaires, and many will face votes that could affect their financial holdings.
Eleven of the 63 first-termers in the House and Senate have financial interests of at least $15,000 in banking or credit-card companies, including bank directorships, according to an Associated Press review of financial disclosure forms filed during the campaign.
Among the issues the next Congress is expected to tackle is legislation that would make it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy. The bill has been pushed by the banking industry.
Several incoming freshmen also have significant financial holdings in the pharmaceutical and oil industries, both of which could well be the subject of congressional action next year.
For example, Congress will consider legislation to help senior citizens buy prescription drugs. Democrats want to put the program under Medicare; Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry want a smaller program run by private insurers.
And the oil industry favors opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, a subject of heated dispute in the past Congress. President Bush and many Republicans favor the exploration, while many Democrats and environmental interests oppose it.
Government watchdog groups often cite the economic inequity between many members of Congress and the people they represent.
"Only richer people tend to win office," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, which is affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "It's those very same people who tend to hold lots of stock. They have conflicts of interest in respect to their voting when they come to office."
Rep.-elect Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, owner of Liberty Petroleum Corp., said his business interests won't cloud his votes.
"There's every desire on my part to do what's best for the country and for the people I represent, regardless of any implication it has upon my business," he said.
Rep.-elect Jeb Bradley, New Hampshire Republican, who reported holdings of $1 million to $5 million, much of it from stocks, said the only way he would benefit is if the economy improves, which helps everyone.
Almost 43 percent of the incoming freshmen 27 lawmakers are millionaires, compared with 1 percent of the American public. Fourteen will take a pay cut to serve in Congress, where rank-and-file senators and representatives will receive $154,700 next year.
Rep.-elect Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, is taking the biggest financial hit. He reported $6.9 million in salary last year, primarily from investment banking, according to his financial disclosure form. Before joining the private sector, Mr. Emanuel was a senior adviser to President Clinton.
His spokeswoman said Mr. Emanuel will set up a blind trust.
Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group, said many lawmakers' wealth puts them out of touch with their constituents.
"When you have a number of people out of work and health care being a problem for the middle class, not just the poor, and with the economy stalled, to have this bumper crop of millionaires stands out," Mr. Lewis said. "That's who gets into politics now."

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