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Johnson's Finances Are Coming under Scrutiny

Now that Speaker Mike Johnson is two heartbeats from the presidency, he is under a huge microscope for the first time. The Daily Beast is reporting that Johnson has never listed having a bank account on his financial disclosure forms since he has been in Congress. That is extremely unusual and means one of three things: he's extremely poor, he uses some odd alternative to banks (stuffing money in the mattress?), or he's lying.

Members of Congress are required to disclose all bank accounts unless the amount in the account is under $1,000 and the total value of all the member's accounts plus those of his or her spouse and dependent children is under $5,000. Ordinary members of the House and Senate make $174,000 per year. When he became speaker, Johnson got a pay raise to $223,500. Members are paid once a month on the last day of the month. That means for the past 6+ years, Johnson has been getting $14,500 every month. If he doesn't have a bank account, obviously he can't get his salary by direct deposit to his bank account. If he picks up a check every month, where does he cash it absent a bank account? Does he go to some local check cashing place and get $14,500 (minus a fee of 1-12%) in cash every month? We doubt that many check cashing places have that amount of cash lying around all the time, assuming they will do it at all.

Here is the reporting form. It is due May 15 of every year for the previous calendar year. It is possible that Johnson deposits his November check to his bank account on Dec. 1 and then withdraws $13,501 in cash immediately and stuffs it in his mattress, so on Dec 31 (the reporting date), he has only $999 in his account, which doesn't have to be reported.

In addition, if Johnson has no checking account or less than $999 in his, how does he pay his mortgage? He did report a mortgage of between $250,000 and $500,000. Even if his mortgage is $250,000 at a rate of 3%, the interest alone would be $625. Zillow says his house in Benton, LA, is worth $600,000, so a more likely 4% loan on $400,000 would be $1,333/mo. just in interest. And his checks would bounce unless he withdraws only $12,168 in cash every payday and times everything perfectly.

And what about his car insurance company, and his credit card company, and his cell phone provider? These folks tend not to be receptive if you ask if you can bring a wad of cash to the office every month. And even if they grudgingly say "all right," bringing cash to half a dozen offices every month wastes a lot of time. Does Johnson's dentist take bitcoins?

Many Americans have less than $1,000 in their bank accounts, but that is usually true of people making, say, $30,000 a year, not people making $174,000 a year. Oh, and Johnson's wife has two jobs, so where does her money go? Also, banks charge fees if your balance is too low. Chase and Citibank charge $12/mo. unless you have $1,500 in your account all the time. Maybe he found a bank that requires a smaller balance to avoid fees, but why would someone making $14,500/mo. pick a bank based on the monthly fee structure? According to the banks, the median amount that Americans have in their checking accounts is $5,300 and the average amount in savings accounts is $41,600. But Johnson, who is in the top 12% of all earners, has $999 or less in his checking account and under $5,000 in all his checking, savings, money market, and CD accounts combined? This doesn't compute.

Oh, and the website is reporting that Johnson owns a 12,000 sq. ft. mansion in Baton Rouge, a 5,000-acre ranch in Shreveport, and a 200-acre island in the Gulf of Mexico. These would have to be reported on the ethics form. We don't know if this is true, but this is far more typical of members of Congress than not having $1,000 in their checking accounts. Intelius is reporting that a James Michael Johnson born in Jan. 1972, who has a relative named Kelly Lary Johnson, owns two properties in Benton, LA, seven properties in Shreveport, LA, and six properties in Baton Rouge, LA. James Johnson and Michael Johnson are extremely common names so they may have mixed in some others with the speaker, although Johnson was born in Shreveport and now lives in Benton, so at least some of these are plausible. Maybe Johnson wasn't sure about the reporting requirements (even though he is a lawyer), so he went to the top and got advice about reporting from Clarence Thomas. (V)

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