Betsy Woodruff: How Did Harry Reid Get Rich?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine that someone grows up in poverty, works his way through law school by holding the night shift as a Capitol Hill policeman, and spends all but two years of his career as a public servant. Now imagine that this person’s current salary—and he’s at the top of his game—is $193,400. You probably wouldn’t expect him to have millions in stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Harry Reid - Caricature

Harry Reid – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

If he’s a politician, of course you would. I remember someone saying that Lyndon Johnson went to Washington “intending to do good, and wound up doing very well indeed.” Harry Reid must have watched and learned from LBJ.

Here’s how it’s done:

In 2004, the senator made $700,000 off a land deal that was, to say the least, unorthodox. It started in 1998 when he bought a parcel of land with attorney Jay Brown, a close friend whose name has surfaced multiple times in organized-crime investigations and whom one retired FBI agent described as “always a person of interest.”

Three years after the purchase, Reid transferred his portion of the property to Patrick Lane LLC, a holding company Brown controlled. But Reid kept putting the property on his financial disclosures, and when the company sold it in 2004, he profited from the deal—a deal on land that he didn’t technically own and that had nearly tripled in value in six years.

Shinny up close to a shady character, and go along for the ride. Not close enough to be indicted, you understand, but close enough to triple your money without getting dirty. What a game!

From the article:

Here’s another example: The Los Angeles Times reported in November 2006 that when Reid became Senate majority leader he committed to making earmark reform a priority, saying he’d work to keep congressmen from using federal dollars for pet projects in their districts. It was a good idea but an odd one for the senator to espouse.

He had managed to get $18 million set aside to build a bridge across the Colorado River between Laughlin, NV, and Bullhead City, AZ, a project that wasn’t a priority for either state’s transportation agency.

His ownership of 160 acres of land nearby that stood to appreciate considerably from the project had nothing to do with the decision, according to one of his aides. The property’s value has varied since then. On his financial-disclosure forms from 2006, it was valued at $250,000 to $500,000. Open Secrets now lists it as his most valuable asset, worth $1 million to $5 million as of 2010.

It’s all about being in the right place at the right. It’s also nice if you can arrange things so that you’re in the right place at the right time.

Good job, Harry!

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