Slate's Moneybox: Miers' Personal Finances The search continues for insight into the views and legal philosophy of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Alex Chadwick speaks with Slate financial writer Henry Blodgett about Miers' account of her finances in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

Slate's Moneybox: Miers' Personal Finances

Slate's Moneybox: Miers' Personal Finances

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The search continues for insight into the views and legal philosophy of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Alex Chadwick speaks with Slate financial writer Henry Blodgett about Miers' account of her finances in her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

You've heard by now that President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, had trouble this week with a questionnaire she filled out for the Senate. Senators were so unsatisfied with her answers, they took the unprecedented step of sending the questionnaire back and demanding she try again. And there's this: In her current job as White House counsel, Ms. Miers has also filled out financial disclosure forms for the last five years. Those, too, tell part of her story. Henry Blodget is a former securities analyst and contributing writer to the online magazine Slate. He's been going through these financial disclosures. He joins us now.

Henry, you write in Slate that one remarkable fact strikes you about these financial disclosure forms. What is that?

HENRY BLODGET (Slate Magazine): Well, Alex, first, she's worked as an attorney in private practice for about 30 years, and yet, unlike John Roberts and a lot of the others in the current administration, she's not amassed a significant amount of personal wealth as a result of that. And, obviously, there are a lot of people that have worked that long and have not done it. But it is relatively rare when you have a corporate lawyer who has not come out of it with more money than she has.

CHADWICK: And not just a corporate lawyer, but as the president has said, the first woman to head a law firm in Dallas, a big law firm in Dallas, a former chair or president of the Texas State Bar. This was a very successful lawyer.

BLODGET: That's right. It's not that she has just simply been a partner in a one- or two-person firm, but she was actually the managing partner in a 400-person law firm at the end and was making something on the order of $625,000 a year when she left.

CHADWICK: You note that she doesn't have a lot of personal wealth; that is, her car and other assets add up to only about $35,000--personal assets this is.

BLODGET: Right. At least, certainly that we can see on the forms, so it suggests that she's not hiding some yachts or wine cellars or anything like that somewhere else.

CHADWICK: So where does one's money go? Perhaps into retirement savings? Very conservative investment plan for her, you say.

BLODGET: Yes, this is sort of one of the mysteries when you look at the forms. And, again, the White House has not added color to the forms, but when you look at them, what you see is a retirement account that a few years ago was somewhere between $500,000 and a million; has now dwindled to about $200,000. And so, obviously, you ask the question, well, where did that money go. And, yes, it is also been invested very conservatively in cash and Treasuries which is certainly conservative. You're going to spend the money near term, but, unfortunately, it does leave her very exposed to inflation, especially if we think that she's gonna live to, say, 85 or 90. That's a lot of years to bank on just a paltry interest rate.

CHADWICK: But it's not just the investment strategy she's been following. You say that she has been drawing down her personal savings account and there may be a reason for that.

BLODGET: It seems that she has. Again, it's not possible--nothing has been stated affirmatively, but certainly when you look at it, you wonder where the money's gone. And what has been suggested in some of the writing about this in The Wall Street Journal and the AP is that she may be spending a fair amount of money to take care of her mother, who is 91 years old and has been sick for at least a decade and has required around-the-clock care and so forth. And so it may well be that that is where she is spending the money that she had set aside for her own retirement.

CHADWICK: And she's credited with tithing to her church as well, which is, I think, 10 percent of one's income in a normal situation.

BLODGET: That is what has been said as well by her church, and that it may, in fact, even be in excess of that.

CHADWICK: So the financial picture that emerges here, it seems to me, is one of an American who finds herself in circumstances that would be very familiar to a lot of people and with less wealth than one might expect from someone who had accomplished so much.

BLODGET: I think that's right. I think one of the ironies here is that this is an American who is incredibly well-educated, has worked very hard for a long time, is obviously self-reliant and frugal based on what we can see, and yet, at age 60, has not amassed enough assets to really fund a comfortable retirement. So certainly, if she doesn't end up on the Supreme Court, where presumably, A, there's no retirement age so she can work forever if she feels like it, and, B, there is a good pension plan and presumably there are ancillary speaking opportunities and so forth--unless she does that or goes into private practice and jacks her salary up immensely, she will have to keep working for quite some time and also, probably, will depend on Social Security benefits, which is something--an irony only because I think some people on the conservative side would love to abolish that program.

CHADWICK: Opinion and analysis from Henry Blodget. He's a contributor to the online magazine Slate, writing this week about the finances of Harriet Miers, the Supreme Court nominee. Henry, thank you.

BLODGET: Thanks for having me.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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