For first time, majority of Congress
worth $1 million or more
Al Jazerra America/01.09.2014
Financial disclosure forms show that a majority of Congress members are millionaires, and experts say there is a growing concern about the disconnect between lawmakers and average Americans.
At least 50 percent of current members of Congress reported an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, an increase of two percent, based on financial disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) that members must file by May 15 of each year.
Sarah Bryner, research director at CRP told Al Jazeera that while Congress being wealthy isn’t new, people are more aware of the growing gap, and it’s more important now than ever as the future of food stamps, the minimum wage, unemployment benefits and changes to the tax code are being debated by lawmakers.
“I think that it’s a classic transparency issue,” said Bryner. “Over time we have seen Congress get wealthier and wealthier, and it certainly begs the question as to whether we have an elected body that represents everyone.”
Median net worth for all members of the House of Representatives was $896,000; in the Senate it was $2.7 million. Democrats are more wealthy in the House, and Republicans are more wealthy in the Senate, with Senate Democrats being the only group to report a drop in net worth because two of the wealthiest members — former senator John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died in June of 2013 — are no longer on the list.
Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif) is the wealthiest member of Congress, with an estimated net worth of $597 million.
By comparison, median family net worth has been on a steady decline, dropping 40 percent in 2010 to just $77,300 in the face of the greatest economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression.
The sharp decrease is also tied to home values, which have plummeted substainially but are just beginning to rebound.
Because of the complicated disclosure rules, it’s hard to get an exact figure on just how much a member of Congress is worth, Bryner says.
Calculating members’ net worth, the difference between the value of someone’s assets in relation to his or her liabilities, is tricky because lawmakers do not have to disclose the exact dollar value of an asset. Instead, assets are reported by listing the value a particular asset may have.
For example, a member of Congress could say his or her second home is worth between $200,000 and $500,000. The higher value the asset, the wider the range.
The wealthiest member of Congress, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., reported his net worth to be between $330 million and $597 million.
Recent changes to disclosure rules in the STOCK act also allow lawmakers to report high-value assets as being worth “$1 million or more,” and disclosure reports no longer have to be digitized, making it much more difficult to review the data.
Previously, the regulations required a much more specific value report, which explains how Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, could drop from the top spot last year at $500.6 million to fifth wealthiest at an average of $143 million.
The disclosures also include assets that belong to a spouse or dependent children.
Bryner said it takes six months for CRP to translate complicated forms and financial reports into understandable information and then manually enter the information into their database.