Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tough times: Congress Grew 13 Percent Richer In 2007

Tough times: Congress Grew 13 Percent Richer In 2007

By Rob Hotakainen

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Times are tough, but don't worry about most members of Congress making ends meet.

Their collective wealth grew by 13 percent last year, leaving them in better shape than most Americans to make it through an economic downturn, according to a new analysis of personal financial reports.

Overall, nearly two of every three senators are millionaires. That includes presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. In the House, 39 percent of all members belong to the exclusive club.

Only 1 percent of all Americans are considered millionaires.

"With a median net worth of $746,000, most members of Congress have a comfortable financial cushion to ride out any recession," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which conducted the study.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranks No. 1, with $397 million, followed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with $343 million. Rep Robin Hayes, R-N.C., ranks third, with $173.4 million. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ranks sixth, with $62 million.

In the Senate, the two Democrats from Massachusetts claimed two of the top three spots.

Sen. John Kerry led the pack, with $336 million, while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ranked third, with $104 million. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., ranked second, with $241.5 million. Overall, senators had a median net worth estimated at $1.7 million.

The 535 members of Congress, who earn average annual salaries of $169,000 and receive cost-of-living pay increases, had a total net worth of $3.7 billion last year. Although some are likely to take a hit from Wall Street's woes, their average net worth soared by 61 percent from 2004 to 2007.

However, not all members are wealthy and some appear to be bankrupt. The study found that 16 House members and three senators had an average net worth of less than zero.

Obama ranked as one of the biggest financial winners, with his net worth increasing from $800,000 in 2006 to $4.7 million last year, thanks mainly to royalties from his two best-selling books. McCain had a net worth estimated at $28.5 million, with most of the wealth attributed to his wife Cindy's family fortune.

Authors of the study said it's impossible to give a precise net worth for members of Congress because their individual assets and liabilities are disclosed in broad ranges. To conduct the study, the Center for Responsive Politics determined a member's minimum net worth and maximum net worth and then calculated an average, which was used to rank the members.

Because the law does not require them to do so, members of Congress don't disclose the value of their homes unless they produce income. As a result, a member's true net worth is likely to be much higher than what gets reported.

"Members of Congress don't make it easy for the public to keep tabs on their personal holdings and any conflicts of interest those holdings present," said Dan Auble, who manages the center's database of lawmakers' financial information.

Who's the wealthiest of them all?

A new study suggests that members of Congress are in much better shape than most Americans to make it through an economic slowdown.

Here's a list of the members who had the highest average net worth last year:

Senate

1 John Kerry (D-Mass.)........$336,224,883

2 Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)........$241,545,513

3 Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)........$103,560,020

4 Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)........$93,715,011

5 Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)........$89,509,099

6 Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)........$84,171,162

7 Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)........$46,127,014

8 Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)........$33,308,537

9 Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)........$32,428,089

10 Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.)........$31,421,472

House of Representatives

1 Jane Harman (D-Calif.)........$397,412,077

2 Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)........$343,457,521

3 Robin Hayes (R-N.C.)........$173,409,173

4 Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.)........$165,748,714

5 Michael McCaul (R-Texas)........$64,073,077

6 Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)........$62,468,047

7 Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)........$50,297,547

8 Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.)........$47,350,092

9 Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)........$43,716,445

10 Gary Miller (R-Calif.)........$39,978,021

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

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