WASHINGTON - It's that delicious week when we peek at the financial records of our senators, who make $162,100 a year but who - surprise, surprise - are worth much, much more.
For the most part, these people are hardworking. They spend their days fretting about the minutiae of government, learning about complicated issues such as biomass and actuarial tables, and worrying about the evils perpetrated by foes across the aisle.
They travel home many week-ends to see voters and, for those whose families don't live in Washington, to see their spouses and children. They are always fretting about the next election, going to fund-raisers, or calling donors for more contributions.
We should take heart that the senators, as a group, are far more scrupulous about their personal fortunes and where they come from than they used to be. Largely, that's because today's laws are much tougher. Senators must disclose their finances.
They don't have to say how much their houses are worth and they don't have to be specific - they just have to check off a range, such as stock worth between $1 million and $5 million. So there's a lot we don't know.
Nevertheless, it's intriguing to see how the other half lives. (Half the senators are millionaires.)
Senate GOP leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is one of the wealthiest. A heart surgeon from a rich family, he gets $175,700 from taxpayers because he's the top senator by virtue of Republicans having control. He is worth more than $14 million, most of it in blind trusts, which provide him more than $1 million in annual income. He might run for president in 2008.
He is not as rich as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) of the Rockefellers. He has a blind trust at JP Morgan Chase Bank worth more than $50 million, one at Wachovia Bank worth from $25 million to $50 million, and a third at United National Bank worth from $5 million to $25 million.
Rising fast in the ranks of the wealthy is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.). She and her husband Bill have paid off reported legal fees of $11.3 million, stemming from investigations when they were in the White House. They have multimillion-dollar houses in Washington and New York. Last year she earned $2.38 million in royalties from her 2003 autobiography, Living History, which so far has earned her $8.7 million. She might run for president in 2008.
Former President Clinton reportedly received at least a $10 million advance for his book, My Life, and earned $875,000 from six speeches last year despite heart surgery. That was down from $4.4 million in 2003 and $9.5 million in 2002. The Clintons have been too busy to invest all their money - they keep $13 million in a bank account in Citibank and a blind trust.
Like Hillary, other women of the Senate are a wealthy lot. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), who ran an Internet startup, spent $10 million of her own money to win her race. She still has from $3.4 million to $7.4 million. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), married to an investment banker, last year reported assets of over $35 million. Her accountants are still working on this year's details.
Some members are wealthy because of their wives. Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) has $170 million from funds his wife inherited from her first husband, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania who died in a plane accident. Mr. Kerry might run for president again in 2008.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) also has his wife, a former lawyer for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, to thank for at least $1.3 million. He might run for president in 2008.
Not all senators are wealthy by Senate standards. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) reports all her retirement funds and assets, not counting her house, at between $167,000 and $330,000. Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife survive on his Senate salary. He drives a 1993 Taurus.
Of the other senators eager to be presidential candidates in 2008, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has about $12 million; Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) has $2.3 million; Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) has $2.3 million, and Sen. George Allen (R., Va.) has $1.1 million.
Not all senators who want to be president are rich. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 GOP leader, has six young children, reports assets ranging from $172,000 to $455,000, and is worried about college costs.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, teaches law part time to earn an additional $20,000 a year, has assets of between $55,000 and $300,000, and owes thousands of dollars, some against his life insurance, for his children's college expenses.
Is there a moral to all this? No.