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Recession hits Buchanan in the wallet

MANATEE — Being one of Congress’ richest members didn’t insulate Rep. Vern Buchanan from last year’s economic collapse, according to recently released financial disclosure reports.

Buchanan, R-Sarasota, reported his net worth fell between $1.2 million and $56 million from 2007 to 2008, largely from the sale of auto dealerships and other assets as well as falling stock prices.

His net worth was between negative $70.9 million and $345.2 million in 2008, down from negative $69.7 million to $401.2 million in 2007.

Members of Congress are required each year to report their assets and debts other than their homes, with amounts given in broad ranges that make it impossible to calculate the true value of their assets, liabilities and net worths. To calculate the range of Buchanan’s financial filings, the Herald took the maximum value of liabilities and subtracted the minimum value of assets for the low end of potential net worth; for the highest potential worth, the Herald took the maximum value of assets and subtracted the minimum value of liabilities.

“There are very few people who have not been impacted in some way by the recession,” Buchanan spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts said in a statement Thursday. “Our focus is on the working families who have lost their jobs and homes and helping small businesses, which create most of the jobs in this country.”

Tibbetts declined to answer questions about how severely the auto-sales slump has hit Buchanan financially or what spending cutbacks he has made because of the economy.

Although it’s not reflected in the report, Buchanan’s Dodge dealership in Venice is among those that Chrysler dropped as part of a bankruptcy restructuring. And Buchanan sold his stake in a Kentucky dealership last year, his report shows.

Also sold by Buchanan or his varied businesses last year: An airplane, a hangar at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and a condominium in northern California.

However, one of his businesses purchased a house in the Colorado resort town of Aspen.

Buchanan listed himself as a partner or officer of 35 different business entities, including car dealerships, a yacht broker and several land developers.

He also listed liabilities of between $33.9 million and $172 million, mostly mortgages on his dealerships. He paid off $3.75 million to $13.5 million of that last year.

Buchanan was the eighth-richest House member in 2007, and fifth-richest the previous year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It has not released 2008 rankings.

The reports were due May 15 and were to be released today, but the non-partisan Web site LegiStorm posted the House disclosures after the House inadvertently put them online briefly Tuesday. — Herald Staff Writer Sara Kennedy contributed to this report.