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

The fight for net neutrality, like the fight for an open and free Internet, is a clarion call for Internet users and content creators to defend what has made the the web one of the world’s greatest enablers of social and economic progress.

Keystone XL pipeline, carbon emissions, tar sands, Oceti Sakowin people

The Oceti Sakowin people are mobilizing a resistance that could be the game changer in the fight to stop the proposed Keystone pipeline and help shut down the tar sand projects in northern Alberta.

Occupy was brilliant in getting a message across, but these protests are specifically and deliberately setting out to disrupt the functioning of the city until attention is paid to their grievances.

Britain’s colonial legacy is a living one – no one is born prejudiced, but in Britain all of us are born into racism.

Most Americans are unaware of the true financial value of solar today.

Powell Memo, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, total boycott, economic alternatives, worker-owned businesses, student debt, student loans, banking alternatives, move your money, Strike Debt, Rolling Jubilee

This is a strategic memorandum to all movement organizers, social justice organizations, and free citizens disgusted with a corporate state that has systematically extracted our wealth and resources while giving back nothing in return.

Posted 4 days 35 min ago

The annual conference features globalization’s "Mafiocracy" of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians who promote common ideas and serve common interests: their own.

Posted 5 days 2 hours ago

The left-populist party headed by Alexis Tsipras is positioned to win Greece’s elections Sunday on a progressive platform to reverse austerity cuts imposed on the country over the past half decade.

Posted 3 days 24 min ago
The Davos class run our major institutions, know exactly what they want, and are well organized, but they have weaknesses too.
Posted 5 days 2 hours ago

The newly launched organization Commonomics USA is among 15 groups calling for the U.S. Postal Service to initiate low-cost financial services to end "prey-day" lending.

Posted 6 days 15 min ago

The annual conference features globalization’s "Mafiocracy" of bankers, industrialists, oligarchs, technocrats and politicians who promote common ideas and serve common interests: their own.

Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, Citizens United, money in politics, corporate campaign spending, dark money, superPAC, Sunlight Foundation, Backbone Campaign, Chamber of Commerce, Get Money Out

This Wednesday, activists and organizations across the country are getting loud, bold and creative as they demand the overturn of Citizens United.

Appropriating and expropriating resources is now an autonomous financial dynamic, working more covertly and even in a more democratic political context than military conquest.

The pay ratio between the highest- and lowest-paid worker-owners in cooperatives is between 3:1 and 5:1, compared with a ratio of roughly 600:1 in traditional corporations.

Rising inequality is dangerous. A concentration of wealth capturing power is leaving ordinary people voiceless.

Sign Up