It gets complicated adding up what politicians are worth

There's a popular misconception that Harry Reid has spent his entire life on the taxpayer's dole, so it would be impossible for him to become rich on his own.

The Senate majority leader has been a full-time officeholder since he was first elected to the House in 1982, but many forget he practiced law for 18 years before that. He passed the bar at the end of 1964 and was in private practice even when he held other part-time jobs, including lieutenant governor and chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. He said he had more than 100 jury trials when he was practicing.

Even before he went to Congress, Reid bought real estate and held onto it. One example: In 1979 he and law partner Bruce Alverson bought a building at 428 S. Fourth St. in Las Vegas for $89,500. In 2000, it sold for $716,000.

In 2008, the nonpartisan public interest group the Sunlight Foundation attempted to calculate the net worth of lawmakers compared with when they arrived in Washington, D.C., and, like me, found it an impossible task. Instead, the foundation studied figures starting in 1995 when the forms were modernized. The conclusion: Reid's net worth was about $5.4 million in 1995 and by 2006 had dropped to about $3.3 million. The reason: Reid sold much of his land to put his five children through college.

Yes, he's a multimillionaire. No, I can't tell you precisely how much he's worth today.

The federal report he filed in May that covered 2009 allows him to report his assets in categories that just give ranges of value. His holdings today include real estate, municipal bonds from all over the country, stocks and mining claims.

Reid's latest report filed in May shows his worth during 2009 was somewhere between $3 million and $6.7 million. In 2008, the range was between $2.8 million and $6.3 million, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, means that out of the elite 100, he was the 32nd richest senator.

Way back in 1982, the year he was elected to the House, Reid filed a report saying his net worth was between $1 million and $1.5 million "or more."

Three of his assets in 1982 were listed under the category "$250,000 or more." One was 89 acres in Searchlight; then there were a commission and his law partnership. Without knowing the value of the three, you can't tell even the range of his net worth when he began in the House.

I thwacked his GOP challenger Sharron Angle on Saturday for her state reports, questioning whether she understands them because of the way she answered some questions.

I also found out that while she said on her state reports she owned two parcels of land, now she says she doesn't. The land is in her father's trust, so it wasn't reported on her federal statement.

She's not the only one to fail to report land.

In 2006, then Associated Press investigative reporter John Solomon probed Reid's finances and uncovered that in 2001, Reid failed to report land he and his wife, Landra, bought in 1998 for $400,000.

While no money exchanged hands, Reid sold it in 2001 to a limited liability corporation he owned with his close friend Jay Brown. When the land sold in 2004, Reid made $700,000.

Although Reid said he was part of Brown's limited liability corporation, Solomon couldn't find him listed as an officer, so it looked like Reid didn't actually own the land, yet he received the profits.

Reid also discovered two other land transactions he forgot to report. So he amended his reports.

Just like Angle may amend hers.

Mistakes or misdeeds? The readers will decide.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call 702- 383-0275. She also blogs at