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Bartlett is on list of Congress' richest

June 13, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Sonny Bono amassed great riches and fame before his election to Congress, but he would lose to Roscoe G. Bartlett in a wealth contest - at least on paper.

In fact, Bartlett, R-Md., has more assets than most of his colleagues.

Roll Call newspaper lists Bartlett as the 46th richest person in the 535-member Congress in its annual Roll Call 50. That puts him three notches above Bono, the California entertainer who is now a Republican congressman.

The list is based on annual reports disclosing personal assets that U.S. senators and representatives must file. The latest figures, showing assets for the calendar year 1996, are due on Saturday.

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Using figures from 1995, Bartlett is worth about $2.5 million. The only other Tri-State area legislator who made the top 50 list was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who was fourth with a net worth of $200 million.

Amy Keller, who compiled the list for Roll Call, said it routinely generates great interest.

"This is one of the most requested stories we get here," she said. "The public often has this perception that Congress is filled with a bunch of guys with millions of dollars, and in some respects, that's true."

But Bartlett said the rankings are misleading. He said most of his wealth is in land holdings, not cash.

"This is a paper thing," he said. "I'm land-poor."

Bartlett's most valuable asset, for instance, is an 85.3-acre farm on Buckeystown Pike in Frederick County, Md. It is valued at between about $1 million and $5 million. He said he bought the property in 1961 for $70,000 hoping to milk cows.

But because it was in the path of development along the Monocacy River, he said, the value shot up over the years. He pays taxes on the land, he does not receive those millions in income, he said.

"I haven't realized a first dime from that," he said.

Bartlett earns rental income from an apartment on the property, between $15,001 and $50,000 in 1995. He also owns bonds, precious metals, a money market account and collects more than $12,000 from a pension.

The report also shows assets from a property with buildings in Onaway, Mich., and two houses on 153 acres of land in Pocohontas County, W.Va.

Bartlett also at one time held mortgages in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., Thurmont, Md., and Keymar, Md. He said those have all since been paid off.

People who read his wealth on paper would be surprised to see how he lives, he said. He had a car with 180,000 miles on the odometer, and when it broke down recently, he bought a 5-year-old used car with 48,000 miles on it, he said.

"My lifestyle in no way is a reflection of that paper net worth," he said.

He said he donates $2,000 a year to each of the 10 colleges and universities in the 6th Congressional District, including Hagerstown Junior College.

Assessing the net worth of members of Congress has always been a bit of a guessing game. The disclosure forms require only that they mark ranges. For instance, Bartlett checked the box marked between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 for his farm.

The highest category is for assets greater than $5 million.

"It's still very vague," said Keller, who used the lowest end of the range when compiling the list. "Over $5 million can mean a lot. It can mean a billion."

The forms have been improved, however, advocates said.

Tony Raymond, campaign finance specialist for the Center for Responsive Politics, said the dollar ranges are smaller than they used to be. He said they also require a more detailed and complete breakdown of assets.

Raymond said the forms provide a pretty good picture of a Congress member's wealth, and joked that it also might provide a useful get-rich guide.

"A lot of these guys come here and when they leave town, they're all wealthy men," he said. "By following these forms, maybe we can all learn something and get wealthy."

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