U.S. Senate candidates disclose assets

When viewed through the prism of personal finances, the U.S. Senate contest is a matter of who has more zeros.

Democrat Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, reported combined household assets last year of up to $124 million, including a checking account owned by his wife Cynthia with more than $1 million in it and multimillion-dollar trusts for each of their three dependent children. Blumenthal’s own holdings, though, represent just a fraction of that: between $599,00 and $1.36 million in two investment accounts.

His principal opponent, endorsed Republican candidate Linda McMahon, reported hundreds of investments, including one valued at between $25 million and $50 million at the end of last year. On her disclosure forms, McMahon’s husband, Vince McMahon, got to check the “over $50 million” box-the highest value available, with no upper limit-when reporting one of his investments in the family business, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

A third candidate, businessman Peter Schiff, who has qualified for the GOP primary, is also a multimillionaire. Although Schiff did not file a 2010 disclosure report (he got two extensions from the Senate ethics committee), he did file one last year. That report, covering his 2008 holdings, shows assets worth at least $64.7 million and as much as $91.6 million. He, too, got to check the “over $50 million” box when disclosing the value of his holdings in Euro Pacific Capital Inc., the brokerage firm Schiff started in 1996.

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In short, this is no poor man’s political contest. It’s a battle of millionaires-a potential political turnoff at a time when so many Americans are struggling in a tough economy.

So far, much of the attention has focused on McMahon’s wealth, in large part because of her pledge to spend as much as $50 million on her Senate bid, not to mention the estimated $1 billion value of WWE. The wrestling empire has already attracted significant negative attention, including questions about steroid use by performers and the heavy emphasis on sex and violence in wrestling showdowns.

There’s no question that McMahon’s wealth is eye-popping. Lawmakers and congressional candidates only have to report their assets in broad ranges, and they can exclude certain holdings, such as their primary residence, so an exact tally of net worth is impossible. But even without those details, McMahon’s disclosure forms show the total value of her and her husband’s reportable assets ranged between $156 million and $400 million in 2009.

Blumenthal’s total reportable assets-including the considerable resources of his wife and their children-ranged between nearly $64 million and $124 million.

Most of that money stems from his Cynthia Blumenthal’s holdings; the assets held by him individually or jointly with his wife totaled less than $2 million. The daughter of Peter Malkin, a New York real estate magnate who heads an investment group that owns the Empire State Building and other properties, Cynthia Blumenthal’s personal assets were worth at least $55 million and as much as $107 million in 2009.

No matter who wins this race, any of these candidate would likely rank among the top ten richest lawmakers in Congress in terms of household wealth. McMahon could even end up in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot. According to the most recently ranking, based on an analysis of the 2008 disclosure reports by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the richest lawmaker in Congress now is Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican whose net worth was between $164 million and $337 million.

Based on that tally of 2008 figures, Blumenthal and Schiff would land on the lower end of the richest-members scale, although minus his wife and children’s assets, Blumenthal would slip down precipitously. Most of his assets are held in two trusts, with the largest investment-in the Rockefeller Global Equity Fund II-worth between $250,000 to $500,000.

Cynthia Blumenthal’s money is invested in a wide range of real estate, hedge funds, and private equity ventures. She lists four holdings in the Empire State Building Associates LLC, worth at least $2.5 million and possibly much more. (Spouses do not have to provide as much detail for investments held individually.)

McMahon’s report, which runs about 100 pages, shows a huge portfolio of investments. The stock in WWE is, of course, the biggest single chunk. Vince McMahon reports holding more than $51 million in WWE stock, with no upper limit indicated, and Linda McMahon is listed as owning between $5 million to $25 million in company stock. The company’s website states that total revenues for the first quarter of 2010 were $138.7 million, and net income was $24.7 million.

Besides WWE, the McMahons listed more than 500 joint investments, including small amounts of stock in a gamut of companies, from AT&T and Chevron Corp. to Xerox and Walt Disney. The reports show, for example, between $1,000 and $15,000 in Rolls Royce stock, and the same amount in Nissan Motor Co. They had $15,000 to $50,000 invested in Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Warren Buffett’s conglomerate, and $1,000 to $15,000 in Peabody Energy Corp., the world’s largest private-sector coal company.

They also had one big liability: a line of credit, ranging from $5 million to $25 million, with Morgan Stanley Bank.

Schiff listed more than 200 investments in various stocks and other investments, and he disclosed one liability, a margin loan with Pershing LLC, of between $1 million to $5 million. He also disclosed his salary-more than $17 million in 2008.

McMahon has already poured more than $15 million of her own money into her Senate campaign, and she has said she may spend up to $50 million. Her self-funded campaign allows her to claim independence from big donors, and she has said that if she’s elected, she’ll pass on the Senate salary, which currently is $174,000 a year. Blumenthal’s campaign has said he would draw that government paycheck.

But the prominence of McMahon’s money could also be an albatross at a time when many Americans have lost their jobs, their homes, and their economic stability.

“I think people have a high tolerance, if not admiration and respect, for the very wealthy,” because it’s part of the American dream, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of CRP, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics. “But the issue remains, can they relate to their constituents? Can they relate to their needs, particularly in an economic downturn?”

In surveys posing that question, voters have given Blumenthal higher marks than McMahon. In the Quinnipiac University poll released on June 10, 66 percent of those surveyed said “yes” when asked if Blumenthal “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” When asked that question about McMahon, 48 percent of respondents said yes. The poll did not ask that question of Schiff.

“I don’t think people think of him [Blumenthal] as being wealthy,” said Poll Director Douglas Schwartz. “Yes, he is from Greenwich, but that’s not what he is known for. Whenever there’s a story about her, one of the most prominent features is her wealth.”