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 new 40-page report published by Oxfam International also said the global fossil fuel sector now receives $1.9 trillion in subsidies each year.

Edward Snowden

Snowden told the audience he engaged in civil disobedience because he believes the democratic system of government is not able to work when people don’t know what their government is doing.

Large corporations are the winners and taxpayers are the losers when transparency, accountability and the public interest are sold out to for-profit firms.

The city's social justice roots are centuries old – and today Seattle is also home to more than 70 social justice organizations and more than a dozen progressive film festivals.

Coinciding with the National Day Against Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration, people in Santa Rosa, Calif., will hold a vigil and community potluck Wednesday to commemorate the teen's tragic death.

“We wanted to take action to dramatize the betrayal of the American people and show that we will resist and attempt to disrupt or at least expose pro-corruption politicians' ability to raise big money.”

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago

Drug and device makers paid doctors $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period last year – and saw a healthy return on their investment.

Posted 5 days 15 hours ago

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014, and also has a "foreclosure king" who is now disbarred for his failure to oversee employees accused of carrying out wrongful foreclosures.

Posted 2 days 17 hours ago

As of September 19, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago

So little of our national wealth is going to feed people or provide jobs and instead, the richest Americans vastly increased their wealth this past year. But what vaulted these individuals to the top?

Posted 6 days 17 hours ago

Out of her $672 monthly disability check, Rochelle McCaskill spends $600 rent – leaving her unable to pay the city’s water bills, which have skyrocketed to more than twice the national average.

Punishing local cuts are leaving communities up in arms as the removal of vital school road patrol service – known as the lollipop ladies – could go into effect.

As of September 19, 181 institutions and local governments and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

Florida has the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2014, and also has a "foreclosure king" who is now disbarred for his failure to oversee employees accused of carrying out wrongful foreclosures.

"Peoples' movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one."

Sign Up