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Snakes, student loans lurk in congressional disclosureforms

Rep. Dan Miller's business, besides legislating, is selling snakes and tarantulas.

Rep. Bart Stupak earned a state police disability pension the hard way, tearing up his knee chasing a bicycle thief.

Rep. Ron Klink worked for his campaign manager at the same time his campaign manager worked for him.

The three lawmakers are all freshmen _ Miller a Florida Republican, Stupak a Michigan Democrat and Klink a Pennsylvania Democrat _ and their stories come from their first congressional financial disclosure forms.

The annual forms, covering the 1992 calendar year, were released Friday for all House and Senate members except those who received official extensions.

The documents, providing financial profiles of the lawmakers, generally express broad income categories rather than exact amounts. But there are interesting nuggets throughout.

Miller, whose district includes parts of southern Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties, earned $213,442 as a businessman. He invested in real estate, bonds, office buildings, a nursing center, a restaurant, a marina and a wholesale fish and reptile business that sells tropical fish, boa constrictors and tarantulas as pets.

"I don't know why people buy them," Miller said of the snakes and tarantulas. "It's unbelievable, the stuff people buy. The boas are not poisonous. My son had one that was 2 or 3 feet. I would not want them as pets."

The fish and reptile business earned Miller between $15,001 and $50,000 last year.

Stupak receives about $1,100 monthly in disability payments because he severely damaged his knee during a chase in 1982 while serving as a Michigan state trooper.

Informed that a thief with bolt cutters had just pulled off the latest in a rash of bicycle thefts, Stupak saw the man and chased him.

"I went off a curb and damaged my knee, but I just kept going," Stupak said. "He was going like hell."

Stupak caught the thief after running for a block, but his knee "was so swollen they had to peel the pants off me." He since has had 10 operations to repair joint and cartilage damage. His knee still buckles sometimes when he walks.

Klink, the Pennsylvania Democrat, earned $40,000 last year while employed by his campaign manager, Dennis Casey. Casey hired then-candidate Klink, who was on unpaid leave from his job as a television journalist, to research a crime book he was writing.

At the same time, Casey was on contract to run Klink's campaign.

Casey said Klink was on hispayroll about five months, which means he was making an average of $2,000 weekly.

"Ron was technically unemployed," Casey said. "He needed income and I needed services done. It was a need on both sides."

There are other interesting facts in the forms.

For example, House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia reported spending 49 days on the road last year at the expense of political and business groups. House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri sold a prime piece of vacation property for up to $250,000.

Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell of Maine helps make ends meet by renting out the basement of his Washington home. House Republican leader Bob Michel of Illinois, who is not nearly so vocal in opposition to abortion as some of his colleagues, donated $200 to Planned Parenthood. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole reported $64,100 in speaking fees.

Lawmakers report their earned income, investments, assets, liabilities, transactions, private positions and government travel. They must itemize their speeches, though the honoraria they once could keep must now go to charity.

This is the first collective peek at a 113-member freshman House class swelled by anti-incumbent sentiment and last year's check-writing scandal.

There also are 11 freshman senators, although several were already well-known as House members or as state office holders.

Their former lives were, in some cases, studies in contrasts. Businessman Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, earned more than $200,000 in salary and $1-million in capital gains last year. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, earned only $33,622 as a state senator and reported no assets or investment income.

The rank-and-file congressional salary last year was $129,500. Leaders received $143,800.

Many House freshmen came from state and local government, where they served as legislators, party officials, council members and prosecutors.

Few are rich, with many doubling _ some even quadrupling _ their salaries in joining Congress.

Many first-year members showed they have the same sort of mortgages and education loans to pay off as their constituents.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a former federal judge who was impeached, returned to the Congress that judged him. The Florida Democrat still owes more than $1-million to one of his lawyers and between $500,001 and $1-million to another.

Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a former state legislator, valued the remaining portion of his education loan between $10,001 and $15,000.

Leslie Byrne, D-Va., listed the same value for her children's student loans.

John M. McHugh, a New York Republican who served in the New York Senate, had a boat loan valued between $15,001 and $50,000 and a law-school loan with a balance between $10,001 and $15,000.

Some new lawmakers had been doing well financially before coming to the House.

Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., earned $126,282 last year working for an insurance company. David A. Levy, R-N.Y., had made $99,700: $45,000 as a member of the Hempstead town council and $54,700 as counsel for the Nassau County Republican Committee.

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