Peoria Journal Star

June 16, 2005

LaHood: Trips not on U.S. taxpayers
House members release financial information


By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. Ray LaHood and his wife traveled to Lebanon in 2004 to give a commencement speech at Notre Dame University Lebanon at the university's expense, according to his annual financial disclosure statement.

A similar filing showed that Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, went to Mexico and the Dominican Republic during 2004 in trips that were paid for by private groups.

LaHood and Weller were among members of Congress who released details of their personal finances on Wednesday.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, whose district includes Galesburg and part of Springfield, spent one night in Nashville, Tenn., at the expense of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Evans is the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and such arrangements are considered proper under House ethics rules.

Overall, central Illinois lawmakers were somewhat restrained in their traveling in 2004 - perhaps because it was an election year. Controversy surrounding allegations that a lobbyist financed some of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's trips has increased scrutiny of congressional travels.

"First of all, (trips) aren't paid by taxpayers. That's the important thing," LaHood said. "The work I do on the Appropriations Committee involves a lot of issues of foreign policy."

LaHood, R-Peoria, spent five days in Beirut last July at the university's expense. LaHood said he has traveled to Lebanon every year for the past 11 years. The trips help him maintain relationships with people there, he said.

"I've taken a great deal of interest in the country," said LaHood, who is of Lebanese descent.

In March of this year, LaHood and his wife spent 10 days in China in a trip paid for by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan global policy think tank.

Weller spent three days in Mexico in April 2004 to meet with elected officials at the expense of International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group advocating political and economic freedom around the world.

His four-day trip to the Dominican Republic was to explore issues related to the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, which also includes the Republic. It was paid for by the Dominican Association of Free Zones.

The reports also give the public a limited glimpse of lawmakers' personal lives. For example, the lawmakers aren't required to disclose their personal residences as assets or their mortgages on those residences as debts. And, although some do report exact amounts, they are only required to report in broad ranges.

House members received an annual salary of $158,100 in 2004. Beyond that, LaHood lists only his wife's retirement accounts with assets ranging from $115,003 to $250,000.

LaHood reported that he doubled his debt last year, meaning that he owes somewhere in the range of $265,000 to $650,000. At a minimum, he increased his debt from $130,000 in 2003 to $265,000 in 2004. At a maximum, his debt grew from $300,000 to $650,000.

Most of LaHood's 2004 debt involves long-term student loans incurred for his four children when they were younger. Although his youngest child graduated from college about five years ago, he reported three student loans in the range of $165,003 to $400,000 for 2004. In 2003, the student loans were reported at $115,003 to $250,000. LaHood said he consolidated the 10-year loans and extended their terms.

LaHood also listed a short-term personal loan at Mid-American Bank in Bloomington in the range of $100,001 to $250,000, increasing significantly from 2003 when he reported owing between $15,001 to $50,000. He said he added to his loans primarily to pay for his daughter's wedding and a move to a new condo on Peoria's north side. He also owns a condo in Washington D.C.

"That's mainly because of moving into a condo and my daughter's wedding. I would say those are the two factors more than anything else," LaHood said.

He and his wife sold their longtime family residence more than a year ago for about $150,000 and bought a condo for three times that much, he said.

Evans, who represents Galesburg and part of Springfield, listed assets of last year of between $601,003 and $1.3 million including his Capitol Hill town house, his savings and retirement accounts. He lists his only debt as a mortgage on the town house ranging from $250,001 to $500,000.

Weller, who represents part of McLean, Woodford and Marshall and all of LaSalle County, continued to invest in real estate. He purchased a Chicago condo valued at between $500,000 and $1 million, which brought in rental income of between $15,001 and $50,000. He also bought a second undeveloped parcel in Nicaragua for between $50,001 and $100,000. He bought his first lot there in 2002.

He sold two residential properties - one in Washington for between $250,001 and $500,000 and one in Morris, Ill., for between $50,001 and $100,000. He also bought 5,000 shares of stock in First Community Bank of Joliet for between $15,001 and $50,000.

As liabilities, Weller lists two mortgages on the Chicago condo totaling between $265,002 and $550,000.

He listed assets of between $664,011 and $1.56 million. They include a town house in Washington valued at between $500,001 and $1 million. He received between $15,001 and $50,000 in rental income from his Washington residence last year. A Collinsville house, valued at between $15,001 and $50,000, brought between $5,001 and $15,000 in rental income last year.

His liabilities include two mortgages totaling between $300,002 and $600,000.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., released his financial disclosure report Wednesday, a day later than most other senators including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Obama, who was sworn into office this past January, reported income last year of $60,287 from his state Senate salary and $32,144 from the University of Chicago Law School salary.

But his income changed dramatically earlier this year when he received a $1.9 million advance against royalties from Random House for writing three books including a children's book. The book deal was announced last December and was approved by the Senate Ethics Committee.

He also received a $370,000 advance against royalties from his best-selling autobiography originally published in 1995.

For 2004, he listed assets, including retirement funds for him and his wife, ranging from $200,001 to $400,000. He reported no debts.