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Majority Of Members Of Congress Are Millionaires

Capitol Dome

According to a new study, the majority of Members of Congress and the Senate are worth $1,000,000 or more:

WASHINGTON — It is hardly the kind of news that lawmakers in Congress would want to highlight during a week when unemployment benefits expired for more than a million Americans. But Congress has achieved something of a milestone.

For the first time in history, more than half the members of the House and Senate are now millionaires, according to a new analysis of financial disclosure reports filed last year.

The median net worth for lawmakers in the House and Senate was $1,008,767 — up 4.4 percent, according to the analysis, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which examines the influence of money on politics in Washington.

Over all, at least 268 of the 534 current members of Congress had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, which is the year covered by the reports that each lawmaker had to file in 2013.

The wealthiest member of Congress, as has previously been the case, was Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, who had a net worth of between $330 million and $598 million, a significant chunk of which he earned through the Viper car antitheft system that is marketed and sold by a company he owned.

The poorest was Representative David Valadao, Republican of California, who listed debts of about $12.1 million, mostly from loans on a family dairy farm.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress were about equally wealthy, with Democrats boasting a median net worth of $1.04 million, compared to $1 million for congressional Republicans. The averages in both cases were up compared with the previous year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, the analysis showed.

Many of the members of Congress who were first elected in 2012 were unusually wealthy, helping drive up the overall standard of living among representatives and senators.

Digging deeper into the study, you find a distinct, albeit unsurprising difference, between the House and the Senate:

The median net worth for all House members was $896,000 — that’s up from $856,000 in 2011 — with House Democrats (median net worth: $929,000) holding an edge over House Republicans (median net worth: $884,000). The median net worth for both House Republicans and Democrats was higher than in 2011.

Similarly, the median net worth for all senators increased to $2.7 million from $2.5 million, but in that body it was the Republicans who were better-off. Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011′s $2.4 million), compared to Senate Republicans, at $2.9 million (an increase from $2.5 million).

Here’s a nice chart showing the increase in wealth across partisan lines:

Net Worth Congress

Congress. Nice work if you an get it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. edmondo says:

    That explains a lot of their decision-making, doesn’t it?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    A more interesting statistic would be those who acquired their wealth after they took office, vs. those who brought their wealth with them. Issa was very wealthy before he ran for office; on the other hand, Harry Reid has done quite well since taking public office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  3. Just Me says:

    And in other news water is wet.

    Running for office is costly and more and more only the candidates with a lot of money can afford to run.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. Scott says:

    This doesn’t seem surprising nor are the numbers out of line. Running for office can be a bit of a vanity trip but one that is done after you’ve been successful in other fields. And success in other fields usually includes financial awards.

    Cluck, clucking here is off target.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am not surprised.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Franklin says:

    Is it disproportionate compared to the general public? Of course. Is it surprising? No.

    This was bound to happen eventually with inflation and the increasing difference between the richest and poorest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  7. Tony W says:

    Congress. Nice work if you an get it.

    You might have confused causation with correlation here. I submit that they are not rich because they are in Congress, they are in Congress because as wealthy people they (and their associates) have much to lose if regulations are not to their liking.

    Oh – and they have the leisure time available to run. Few poor people have the luxury of taking a year or two with no pay to run for an office that, at best, they have a 50/50 shot of winning.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  8. al-Ameda says:

    {{{yawn}}} Perhaps it’s time to place the indignation level at, say $25M? A simple $1M to $10M will not raise an eyebrow in New York, LA or San Francisco.

    Being a “millionaire” out here in the San Francisco Bay Area might mean that you should be able to afford a $750,000 2-Bedroom fixer-upper in a “transitional” neighborhood, if you can get a roommate to share the rent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  9. Rob in CT says:

    And, shockingly enough, as a group they seem to be in a bubble. Some really are horrible people, but I’d wager most are decent enough but partially blinded. When you and everyone you work with/social with is doing well (well to very well to extremely well), plus you have to fundraise like crazy from people who are doing obscenely well, how good will you be at empathizing with (note: empathy != sympathy, though one can lead to the other) with those who are struggling?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. Pinky says:

    Senate Democrats reported a median net worth of $1.7 million (a decline from 2011′s $2.4 million)

    Kerry stepped down and Lautenberg passed away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  11. DrDaveT says:

    I’m a bit confused by people reacting to this story with cries of plutocracy. We’re talking about net worth here, not annual income. $1M is just not very much. I live in the DC area; many of my middle-aged co-workers are worth at least that much just from their houses and 401k plans. These are not wealthy people.

    As for growth… the background here that nobody is mentioning is that the median net wealth in the US dropped by 40% (!!!) between 2007 and 2010, due almost entirely to the collapse of the housing bubble and the associated market losses. The recovery of housing prices, plus a very little bit of inflation, is easily enough to account for the growth rates shown above, even for people who are not acquiring any new assets or saving any money.

    Now, if you could show that the median net worth of Congressbeings did NOT drop by anything like 40% from 2007 to 2010, then you could make an argument for why Congress might be out of touch with the nation on that topic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  12. rudderpedals says:

    I know what the median incomes are – 2 person in my state is around $51K. I don’t know what the median net worth is. I’m sure it’s quite low here, but up there the r/e market is booming where here it’s still in the toilet with 1/3 of mortgages under water, 1/10 delinquent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. rudderpedals says:

    2010 median net worth: $77K. The median congresscritter is worth around 15x the median non-congresscritter.

    http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/11/news/economy/fed-family-net-worth/

    Could be the same article Pinky sourced the 40% net worth drop from.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Pinky says:

    @rudderpedals: That was DrDaveT.

    I’d like to see the average net worth of college grads in their 50′s-60′s. I bet that Congress’s average would still be higher, but it’d be a lot closer.

    And unless I’m mistaken, we’ve seen a decline in the number of local politicians and military men in Congress, and an increase in the number of doctors and lawyers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. ernieyeball says:

    @al-Ameda:..A simple $1M to $10M will not raise an eyebrow in New York, LA or San Francisco.

    It’s tough to get by everywhere out there!
    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/cong-sean-duffy-r-wi-its-hard-to-make-ends-meet-on-174000-a-year/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. rudderpedals says:

    @Pinky: Sorry about the misattribution. I don’t know where to find a time series that stretches back that far but I’m totally with you, it would be interesting to plot the trajectories for little guys and congresscritters and see how we got here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. rudderpedals says:

    Oh wait, I see, no I don’t know where to find it by age bracket even for just the last few years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. al-Ameda says:

    The median annual household income in California is $58K, and in the San Francisco Bay Area it is $73K. Also, housing prices are quite often well north of $500K to buy, and to rent 2BR in the Bay Area (from Silicon Valley to SF) often requires $3K per month – so the term “millionaire” seems somewhat dated.

    We need to change our point of reference when it comes to net worth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Pinky: from Forbes Magazine:

    NET WORTH

    Median family net worth
    Age 45 to 54: $117,900
    Age 55 to 64: $179,400
    Age 65 to 74: $206,700

    (Source: Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, 2012)

    An article at Zero Hedge shows that there has also been a significant transfer of wealth from the young to the old over the last 30 years. Much of that is young people with money becoming older people with more money, but there has been no infill of new young people with money to continue the process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Pinky says:

    @DrDaveT: Yeah, those numbers seem reasonable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Dave D says:

    I would bet that repealing the insider trading ban on congress a few months after passing it helps a lot too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. rudderpedals says:

    @al-Ameda: Good point. It’d be more helpful I think to visualize the differential rate-of-change. Intuitively my gut (monkey guts!) expects the median congresscritter is enjoying much larger and more frequent positive swings in his net worth than the median little guy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. PJ says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Now, if you could show that the median net worth of Congressbeings did NOT drop by anything like 40% from 2007 to 2010, then you could make an argument for why Congress might be out of touch with the nation on that topic.

    According to the data there are 516 members of Congress who has left financial disclosure reports both in 2007 and 2010. The median net loss of these members is NOWHERE near 40%. It’s actually 1.5%. (The average net loss isn’t a loss, it’s a GAIN by 32%.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. PJ says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    A more interesting statistic would be those who acquired their wealth after they took office, vs. those who brought their wealth with them. Issa was very wealthy before he ran for office; on the other hand, Harry Reid has done quite well since taking public office.

    Between 2004 and 2012, according to the data used in the study, Issa’s average net worth has gone up by 127%. During the same time Reid’s average net worth has only gone up by 17%.
    Issa has added $260 million to his average net worth, Reid has only added $600,000 to his average net worth.
    So, during these years, Issa has been adding 60 times Reid’s 2012 average net worth to his average net worth.

    Reid has been a member of Congress since 1983, he has held public office since 1969. I wouldn’t call his average net worth of $4,372,030 as having done quite well, especially not since that he would have made much more in the private sector if he would have left Congress years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. Pinky says:

    We shouldn’t be using Darrell Issa as an example, because his story is so unusual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @PJ: Is there any particular reason why you cited numbers from 2004 to 2012? Especially since you note that Reid has been on the public payroll since 1969 and in Congress since 1983.

    I think it’s worth noting that Issa and Lautenberg made their own fortunes; Kerry married into it — twice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  27. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I think it’s worth noting that Issa and Lautenberg made their own fortunes; Kerry married into it — twice.

    In practice, this makes Kerry better-equipped to empathize with the unsuccessful. “Self-made” wealth almost invariably convinces its possessor that unsuccessful people simply aren’t smart or diligent enough, like they were. They entirely fail to recognize the enormous luck factor involved in every large-scale success story.

    (I’m not a big Malcolm Gladwell fan, but he nailed that one.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @DrDaveT: In practice, this makes Kerry better-equipped to empathize with the unsuccessful.

    Are we talking about the same John Forbes Kerry? I’d agree with you if you had said “in theory,” but the reality of this guy is he has spent his entire life believing that he was divinely entitled.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    he has spent his entire life believing that he was divinely entitled

    Sure. But, ironically, it is far more common for someone with that sense of entitlement to empathize with the unsuccessful than it is for the “self-made” successful to empathize. “Noblesse oblige” involves less cognitive dissonance than “I was lucky”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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