"Because of the liabilities, I wind up looking as if I am the poorest person" in Congress, he said.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., had estimated family wealth of $184,000 in 2004. His mutual funds lost money during the recession. The biggest apparent drop in assets he reported came during 2009, from $335,000 to $9,000 in debt. By 2010, he reported holdings that were an estimated $159,000 in debt.
Bishop reported liabilities that included mortgages ranging from $250,000 to $500,000 and a debt in the same range to Greenberg Traurig, a high-powered law firm that had been representing him in an ethics case. Bishop was accused of sending federal funds to a Georgia youth program that employed his stepdaughter and her husband.
While the Office of Congressional Ethics eventually recommended that the allegations not be pursued, Bishop still owed Greenberg Traurig between $100,000 and $250,000, according to his most recent disclosure form.
Bishop declined to comment.
Many members of Congress have impressive financial backgrounds, and some of those trace their wealth back to their spouses.
The net worth of Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex., rose by more than 1,000 percent between 2004 and 2010. McCaul is married to Linda McCaul, the daughter of the chief executive and founder of Clear Channel Communications, which generates nearly $6 billion in annual revenue from its network of radio stations and outdoor advertising business.
While many portfolios suffered painful losses during the economic meltdown, McCaul's finances emerged stronger than ever because of money coming from his wife's family. His estimated wealth skyrocketed, from $70 million in 2008 to $380 million in 2010, broadly invested in numerous companies.
After Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., married a Washington lobbyist in 2003, his financial picture vastly improved. The year before, while he was separated from his first wife, Blunt had an estimated reported wealth of $164,000. By 2010, that figure had risen to nearly $4 million.