As the top aide to the president, White House chief of staff John H. Sununu has enjoyed many of the trappings of wealth and power: Aides hover at his side, a chauffeured car delivers him to work, government jets have moved him across the nation on demand.
But an examination of Sununu's personal finances indicates that Sununu, like many government workers in Washington, lives from paycheck to paycheck. His family income, after fixed expenses, would have made it difficult for the Sununus to afford ski weekends in Aspen and Vail and the frequent flights they have made home to New Hampshire on military aircraft.When the former New Hampshire governor and his wife, Nancy, moved to the nation's capital in 1989, they borrowed $420,000 to buy a house in a Washington suburb. This put their mortgage interest and property tax payments on houses in Virginia and New Hampshire and a ski condominium in Vermont at more than $55,000 a year, according to Sununu's financial disclosure forms and other public records.
The parents of eight children, with sons at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, they said at the time they faced college bills of $35,000 to $40,000 a year. That did not leave much for daily living expenses or income taxes, even on combined annual salaries, before income taxes, at the time of about $130,000, along with at least $15,000 more in income from savings and rent from the ski condo.
"They're struggling," said Kelly Dahood, president of the Salem Co-operative Bank in New Hampshire that financed the new house in Northern Virginia. "If Nancy didn't get that job with the Republican Party, they never would have been able to make it."
The Sununus, whose pre-tax salaries now total more than $183,000 a year after recent raises, were two months late in paying off more than $13,500 in property tax bills in New Hampshire and Virgina last year. Dahood said they have made their new mortgage payments on time, however.
Documents the White House released Thursday, in announcing a curtailment of Sununu's use of the planes, provide further illustrations of how others paid for most of the trips. Sununu himself paid $892 in reimbursements on unofficial flights. The total cost to taxpayers for more than 70 military flights was more than $600,000, based on Air Force flying costs that are now $3,945 an hour for the 12-passenger C-20 jet Sununu usually uses.
For instance, he flew on an Air Force jet with his wife and an aide to Aspen, Colo.
Sununu designated the trip "official," he told White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, because he made a speech to ski industry executives about the administration's conservation and natural resources policy.
A ski group paid $802 - the cost of a coach fare on a commercial airline according to government reimbursement guidelines - for Nancy Sununu's flight and also picked up another $615 in hotel, meals and other expenses for the couple's three-day stay.