Posted on Friday, November 19, 2010
WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are enjoying their own financial stimulus.
Despite a stubbornly sour national economy congressional members’ personal wealth collectively increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics of federal financial disclosures released earlier this year.
And while some members’ financial portfolios lost value, no need to bemoan most lawmakers’ financial lot: Nearly half of them -- 261 -- are millionaires, a slight increase from the previous year, the Center’s study finds. That compares to about 1 percent of Americans who lay claim to the same lofty fiscal status.
And of these congressional millionaires, 55 have an average calculated wealth in 2009 of $10 million or more, with eight in the $100 million-plus range.
“Few federal lawmakers must grapple with the financial ills -- unemployment, loss of housing, wiped out savings -- that have befallen millions of Americans,” said Sheila Krumholz, the Center for Responsive Politics’ executive director. “Congressional representatives on balance rank among the wealthiest of wealthy Americans and boast financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for most of their constituents.”
In 2009, the median wealth of a U.S. House member stood at $765,010, up from $645,503 in 2008. The median wealth of a U.S. senator was nearly $2.38 million, up from $2.27 million in 2008.
For all members of Congress regardless of chamber, median wealth in 2009 reached $911,510, up from $785,515 in 2008. This spike in personal wealth represents a notable rebound from the period between 2007 and 2008, when overall congressional wealth slipped by more than 5 percent. Federal lawmakers’ personal wealth climaxed in 2007 -- the pinnacle of nearly a decade’s worth of steady asset value expansion.
MANY CONGRESSIONAL HAVES, BUT A FEW HAVE-NOTS, TOO
By law, members of Congress are only required to report their wealth and liabilities in broad ranges. It’s therefore impossible to precisely determine how much value their assets are worth, or have gained or lost. Federal law also requires that members of Congress detail any assets owned or debts owed by their spouses and dependent children.
The Center for Responsive Politics determines the minimum and maximum possible asset values for each member of Congress to calculate a member's average estimated wealth. Sometimes, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars separate a lawmaker’s minimum calculated wealth from his or her maximum calculated wealth.
When averaging lawmakers’ minimum and maximum potential wealth for 2009, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tops the list with holdings exceeding $303.5 million. Issa (pictured right) is followed by a fellow Californian, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), with $293.4 million. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) places third at $238.8 million.
Issa, Harman and Kerry realized wealth gains of nearly 21 percent, 19.8 percent and 14.3 percent respectively.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) round the list of lawmakers who in 2009 recorded an average wealth of at least $100 million.
In the House, there are five Democrats and five Republicans among the 10 wealthiest members. On the Senate side, six Democrats and four Republicans rank among the top 10 wealthiest.
On the other end of the wealth spectrum is Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), whose average calculated wealth for 2009 is a bank-busting -$4.73 million. But because of the broad ranges lawmakers may use to report their assets and liabilities, Hastings (pictured right) could be even deeper in the red -- -$7.35 million at worst -- or a more minor anti-millionaire at -$2.11 million in the hole.
Reps. John Salazar (D-Colo.) and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) find themselves in similar situations with average calculated wealth well below $0. But while their minimum potential wealth each dips into -$4 million territory, their maximum potential wealth rockets them each above the $3 million mark.
Matters appear more straightforward -- and grim -- for Rep. Louis Gohmert Jr. (R-Texas), who’s minimum and maximum calculated wealth both fall into six-figure negative territory. Gohmert’s’ average calculated wealth for 2009 is -$150,001.
Reps. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) aren’t in much better shape, as both their minimum and maximum wealth values appear with minus symbols.
But even this may -- or may not -- mean that these members are financially destitute. In addition to only requiring congressional members to report their assets in ranges, federal financial disclosures don't require members of Congress to report certain assets such as personal residences, which may represent significant stores of wealth.
“For most members of Congress, available federal data provides a pretty good sense as to who’s particularly wealthy and who’s not,” said Dan Auble, who manages the Center’s personal financial disclosure database. “But the data has its limitations, and in a few notable cases, it’s simply impossible to predict whether a member of Congress is more likely to conduct an emergency garage sale or lease a new Porsche.”
WILD SWINGS IN WEALTH FOR SOME MEMBERS
Most members of Congress witnessed only modest financial gains or losses between 2008 and 2009, a comparison of personal financial disclosures from both years indicates.
In all, more than 300 current members saw their average wealth either increase or drop by no more than 20 percent .
Outliers abound, however, such as Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.). Fallin (pictured left) had an average wealth in 2008 that amounted to a paltry $32,002. In 2009, it has jumped to nearly $3.6 million -- an increase of 11,141 percent – thanks in large part to her getting married and sharing in her husband’s assets.
Reps. Patrick Kennedy (R-R.I.), Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Pete Olson (R-Texas), Joseph Cao (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also experienced between a 1,000 percent and 10,000 percent increase in their year-to-year average calculated wealth, as did Puerto Rico Del. Pedro Pierluisi.
Overall, party affiliation appeared to play little discernable role in predicting an increase in the value of lawmakers’ personal assets: 12 Democrats and seven Republicans ranked among the top 20 congressmen whose average wealth increased by the greatest percentage between 2008 and 2009. That’s roughly proportional with Congress’ partisan makeup.
Meanwhile, Diaz-Balart led all federal lawmakers with a more than 506 percent drop in his average wealth, which sunk to -$32,500 in 2009 from $8,000 in 2008.
Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-Ga.), Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Meeks each sustained 100 percent or more reductions in their year-over-year average calculated wealth.
Then there’s the curious case of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
The 2009 personal financial disclosure report of Stark (pictured right) seemingly indicates his average wealth figure dropped by more than 368 percent from 2008. But portions of Stark’s handwritten federal report are illegible, making an accurate analysis impossible.
Stark’s office did not immediately return calls seeking clarification.
Meanwhile, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who a House Ethics Committee panel on Tuesday convicted on 11 counts of ethics violations -- including improper disclosure of his personal finances -- reported assets of $872,006 in 2009. That’s above the median amount for a House member.
POWERFUL POLITICAL PLAYERS AMONG MOST POPULAR INVESTMENTS
The most popular investment among congressional members reads as a who’s who list of the most powerful corporate political forces in Washington, D.C. -- companies that each spend millions, if not tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying federal officials. Many of them likewise donate millions of dollars to federal candidates each election cycle through their top employees and political action committees.
With 82 current members of Congress invested, General Electric tops this list. It’s followed by Bank of America (63), Cisco Systems (61), Proctor & Gamble (61) and Microsoft (54).
Apple, with 42 current congressional investors, edges IBM, with 41. Coca-Cola’s 39 congressional investors pop it a notch above PepsiCo, with 36.
And at least 20 current members of Congress were also last year invested in companies that found themselves the subject of congressional or federal agency inquiries, including Goldman Sachs and BP.
Furthermore, the companies behind a number of lawmakers’ favorite investments played key roles in lobbying Congress on two of the most critical legislative initiatives of the past two years: health care reform and financial regulatory reform.
Among health care-related companies, at least 20 current lawmakers reported owning stakes in Pfizer (49), Johnson & Johnson (39), Merck (27), Abbott Laboratories (25), CVS/Caremark (23), Bristol-Myers Squibb (22) and Amgen (20).
As for financial firms, Bank of American and Goldman Sachs are joined by Wells Fargo (45), JPMorgan Chase (38) and Citigroup (24).
In all, there were 50 separate stocks or investment funds in which at least 20 current members of Congress invested during 2009.
PAPER DOCUMENTS HINDER DISCLOSURE
Federal lawmakers are required to file personal financial disclosure reports with the federal government by May 15 of each year.
Because of the volume of data they contain, coupled with Congress’ practice of filing personal financial disclosure reports on paper , it takes the Center for Responsive Politics several months to fully analyze them. Reports that are illegible, such as those filed by Stark, further complicate efforts to accurately analyze lawmakers’ personal finances in a timely fashion.
The Center advocates for electronic submission of all personal financial disclosure reports in sortable and downloadable formats to provide greater transparency and more meaningful access to this valuable public data.
Complete analysis of federal lawmakers' personal finances are contained within the Center for Responsive Politics' updated personal financial disclosure database, available here.
This database is a one-of-a-kind resource and the product of months of research and analysis by the Center.