April 18, 2008 -- Reading Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., personal tax returns, which the White House hopeful released today, you'd never know he's the Senate's eighth wealthiest member.
McCain's returns show he earned about $400,000 last year and gave a lot to charity. That's well above the poverty line -- but well below the $27 million to $45 million reflected in McCain's Senate financial disclosures.
The secret? The vast majority of the McCain family wealth comes from Cindy, McCain's second wife, who is heiress to a fortune built by her father, a beer distributor, whose firm she now chairs. Unlike the Obamas and Clintons, the McCains file their taxes separately -- and Cindy's returns are off-limits to the public, the campaign says.
But McCain's Senate disclosures give a picture of Cindy's impressive wealth -- and that of their children -- and show that almost none of it is directly shared with McCain himself.
What's more, McCain's relatively modest contributions to the family coffers are a fraction of the debt carried by Cindy and the children, the disclosures indicate.
Cindy and the children jointly hold millions in loans against property owned by the children; Cindy has her own construction line of credit worth more than $1 million, and she had, at the time of the filing, between $65,000 and $150,000 in credit card debt. Even two of the children had American Express platinum cards, carrying net balances between $25,001 and $65,000.
McCain's income and assets include most of his $161,700 Senate salary and his $56,000-a-year Navy pension. He lists a single personal checking account, with a balance of between $15,000 and $50,000.
Other than that, the only other "income" McCain reported holding onto in 2006 were two gifts of value: a glass bird from the Republican Main Street Partnership valued at $850 and a Waterford crystal eagle "on an engraved stand," which the disclosure valued at $8,000.
McCain lists no other investments, no retirement funds, no savings, no properties.
Nearly all of the family's millions belong to Cindy and their children.
McCain's 39-page Senate filing -- which cost him and his wife $24,000 in (tax-deductible) accountant's fees just to compile, according to his 2007 return -- is really more a catalog of Cindy's sizeable wealth, some of which is held in trust and investments for their children.
The Cessna jet is owned by Cindy and the children. The millions in cash tucked away in savings and checking accounts? Solely Cindy's. The investment fund shares worth between $2.7 million and $5.8 million belong to the children.
The residential and commercial Arizona rental properties and undeveloped land belong to Cindy. The house in La Jolla, Calif. is Cindy's, while she shares a $1 million-plus investment property in Coronado with her dependent children. The "miscellaneous home furnishings" listed as investments and valued at between $15,001 and $50,000 are solely Cindy's asset; as are the millions in stock in Anheuser-Busch and other companies.
On Friday, the McCain campaign defended the candidate's decision not to release his spouse's returns, in contrast with the Clinton and Obama campaigns. The move was to protect his children, said spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker. "Obviously, her children would be reflected in her return," she said. "Out of privacy for them we will not be putting it [out]."
Bret Hovell contributed to this report.