Sunday, May 4, 2008

Net Worth Not Worth Finding

The other day my good friend at Advance Indiana lambasted one of my favorite writers, Maureen Groppe, for her alleged pro-Andre Carson bias. The story that drew AI's ire was an article in which Groppe focused more on Dr. Myers' sizeable self-loan than it did on the fact that Carson's massive influx of PAC money (which WAS noted) is from out-of-state interests (which WASN'T noted). I'm a fair-minded guy, so I looked at the story again closely, and I did notice something strange. This phrase….

"Myers, a multi-millionaire…"

For a candidate, being rich is NOT a compliment. It's an accusation. Anybody who follows politics (and Maureen Groppe clearly falls in this group) knows this. Wealth is not viewed as a symbol of success, but rather, as proof that you're not "one of us." Remember how John Kerry's ketchup-coated bank account earned him a "limousine liberal" label?

I was curious whether Ms. Groppe was singling out Myers for his wealth. So I started trolling through her other stories. And what I couldn't find was anything akin to "Hillary Clinton, a multi-millionaire…" or "Multi-millionaire Nancy Pelosi…"

And in the same story, I can't find any reference to precisely how many millions Myers actually has. This may have been reported before, but it struck me as strange that this was "assumed knowledge" by Ms. Groppe. And, in fairness, wouldn't you think you should report not only on what ALL the candidates have, but also, what they own?

So I e-mailed Ms. Groppe, and she kindly replied that she knew Dr. Myers was a multi-millionaire because she had reviewed his financial disclosure form. I assumed she was speaking of the Personal Financial Disclosure Form that candidates and members of Congress file. She also offered that she believed the title "multi-millionaire" label concisely addressed how Myers was able to loan himself this money, as well as speaking to the prospect of whether Myers could add more money to his till (which he has since done).

I responded that David O. had also loaned himself $327,000. She responded that his sum was a lot less than $1.6 million. I can't argue with the mathematical proposition that $1,600,000 > $327,000, but if the idea is to show total net worth as an indicator of potential for future loans, we should know how much David O. has. Since David O. is a professor, I seriously doubt he's a millionaire. But I don't KNOW this. What if we found out he has 100 million in investments, and he loaned himself $500,000 today? (I seriously doubt it, given he only loaned himself an additional $22,500 on April 28, but the general point remains). That's what didn't wash for me about Groppe's response. Why speculate about who could do what based on their finances? Why not just give us everybody's numbers?

So I decided I'D tell this story myself. Unfortunately, Ms. Groppe advised that these reports are not available on-line, so I called the Legislative Resource Center at the House of Representatives. They told me I could get copies through the Government Printing Office (GPO). The GPO said if I wasn't available to come to Washington, D.C. that afternoon, I needed to "just go to a federal depository." Huh?

After asking something akin to, "How in the hell would I know what that is," I was directed to a website where I found all of Indiana's applicable "federal depository libraries." Most of them, however, were described as "select." I called the IU-Indy School of Law library and asked about their status as an "FD." The reference librarian told me that they were an FD, but that they only have 13% of the federal collection. (Only a reference librarian would speak with that level of statistical precision). However, he told me the Indiana State Library was a "regional" depository.

So, I drove over. After three phone calls from the desk librarian to a guy upstairs, I received a stack of documents showing the office expenses of members of Congress. I advised that's not what I needed, and twenty minutes later, I hit paydirt! By "paydirt," I mean I received "Personal Financial Disclosure Forms" for 2006, which were completely useless for my purposes. But that was the most current ones the GPO had to send to FDs.

Why, you ask, wouldn't Congress require that the reports be filed electronically with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) so they could go on-line immediately for the public? Oh, I have some guesses.

What I don't understand, however, is that the Center for Responsive Politics and Congresspedia both state that these forms are filed in May. That couldn't be correct, or Ms. Groppe wouldn't have had a form to look at, would she? Dr. Myers wasn't a candidate until January of 2008 (Unless Dr. Myers was just eager to let everybody know what he owned so he filed in advance).

So, as it stands, I'm sitting here not knowing who has filed financial disclosure reports and what's in those reports. Man, if only I knew somebody in Washington, D.C. who could go to the House, look at the disclosures and "report" back to us what they found (or didn't find). If we could find somebody like that, we could even call that person "a reporter."

Seriously, end the madness. Join "the transparency in government movement."

(If you want to look at the 2006 Personal Financial Disclosure reports WITHOUT going to an FD, check out


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about your good friend at that other blog is that the day BEFORE Groppe wrote about Woody's loan and wealth, He wrote about it on his blog and then complained that she wrote about in the Star the next day. I am still trying to figure out what the big deal was......of course, now that anyone who questions or disagrees is deleted from that blog, we will probably never know.