For the First Time, Majority of Congress is Worth $1M or More

Search form

For the First Time, Majority of Congress is Worth $1M or More

For the First Time, Majority of Congress is Worth $1M or More
Thu, 1/23/2014 - by Dexter Mullins
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera America

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 percentage points, based on financial disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) that members must file by May 15 of each year. (Lawmakers report asset and liability values by range; the CRP used accurate figures when possible and averaged the net maximums and minimums.)

Sarah Bryner, research director at CRP, told Al Jazeera that while it isn’t new that members of Congress are wealthy, 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. On average, Democrats are wealthier than their GOP counterparts in the House, and Republicans are wealthier in the Senate, with Senate Democrats the only group to report a drop in net worth because two of their 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.

By comparison, median family net worth in the U.S. 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 nation since the Great Depression.

The sharp decrease is tied to home values, which have plummeted substantially but are just beginning to rebound. Because of the complicated disclosure rules, it’s hard to get an exact figure for how much a member of Congress is worth, Bryner says.

Calculating net worth — the value of assets minus liabilities — is tricky when it comes to lawmakers because they do not have to disclose exact dollar values. Instead, assets and liabilities are reported by range. For example, a member of Congress could say a home is worth $200,000 to $500,000. The higher an asset’s value, the wider the range.

The wealthiest member of Congress, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., reported his net worth at $330 million to $597 million.

Recent changes to disclosure rules in the STOCK Act allow lawmakers to report high-value assets in a range starting at $1 million, with no upper limit, and disclosure reports no longer have to be digitized, making it much more difficult to review the data.

Previously, regulations required a much more specific value report, which could explain how Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, dropped from the top spot last year, at $500.6 million, to fifth, 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 the CRP to translate complicated forms and financial reports into understandable information and then manually enter the information into their database.

“We’re in the 21st century. These should not be handwritten forms that we can only make sense of months and months after,” she said.

There is growing concern about the disconnect, since members of Congress write and vote on laws that affect people who live on drastically different financial levels from theirs — something many of them may have never experienced.

But just because a lawmaker is wealthy doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t understand the plight of the masses, Bryner told Al Jazeera, pointing out that there are several wealthy members of Congress in both parties who focus on populist issues like welfare.

Still, she says the public has reason to be concerned.

“What we have now is a Congress that is very different from the American people, and that doesn’t mean they can’t understand the plight of the people, but members may be writing laws about issues that they have never had to personally experience,” Bryner said.

Article Tabs

FarmDrop and Open Food Network stress the desire to create positive, systemic social change that disrupts the existing dominance of supermarket provision of food.

Republicans are arguing that Wall Street should have the constitutional right to influence politicians and the investment decisions those politicians make on behalf of pension funds and pensioners.

As the outrage in Ferguson takes on new forms and becomes less openly confrontational, the shooting of Michael Brown has started a nationwide dialogue about race, class and American law enforcement.

The vote on Independence is a moment of unprecedented possibility for Scotland to peacefully reject the U.K.'s failed neoliberal agenda.

Grassroots organizations that once made American democracy strong plummeted in the Reagan era – when political parties stopped representing the views of constituents and turned instead to money.

Charlie Hardy, the 75-year-old former Catholic priest now running for Senate, wants to halt NSA spying on ordinary citizens and overturn Citizens United with a Constitutional amendment.

Posted 4 days 21 hours ago

A group of watchdogs at Maplight has introduced an interactive tool to track not only the level and location of political donations, but how the money impacts specific pieces of legislation.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago

If we want a healthy society that follows its laws and applies them equally to everyone, we must demand a full investigation and criminal prosecutions for everyone involved in the mortgage backed securities fiasco.

Posted 2 days 12 hours ago

From clashes during the Occupy movement to violence this month in Ferguson, Mo., researchers say protests get ugly when officers use aggressive tactics, dress in riot gear and line up like military.

Posted 4 days 21 hours ago

Choiseul, a township of around 1,000 people on Taro Island, is less than six feet above sea level.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago

Every morning before the sun rises, an Israeli women's group of mainly retired grandmothers, called Machsom Watch, travels to the epicenter of the daily conflict between Israelis and Palestinians to monitor the checkpoints and be advocates where possible.

Considering that 94 percent of Americans believe animals raised for food should be free from abuse and cruelty, the modern meat industry has good reasons to fear the public finding out that Old MacDonald's farm isn't so happy these days.

Thousands of Greeks took to the streets last week to demonstrate against the escalating violence engulfing the country.

The first jury trial stemming from an Occupy Wall Street protest resulted in an acquittal, thanks in part to video evidence.

From the Dept. of Good News: The Senate actually did something useful.

Sign Up