Washington’s Millionaire Boyz Club

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, for a hearing on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has reclaimed the title of richest member of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Over the holidays, I was watching that old Marilyn Monroe comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire” on Turner Classic Movies (okay, I have no life). This week, a new report suggests (to me, at least)  that if Hollywood were to produce a remake of that 1953 film, the variety of now politically incorrect tactics Ms. Monroe and her friends deploy to land a well-to-do partner could be reduced to one: start dating a member of Congress.

An analysis of personal financial disclosure data by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reveals that “for the first time in history” a majority of senators and representatives are millionaires:

Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767 — an increase from last year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate. (There is currently one vacancy in Congress.)

This is up from the previous year, when approximately 48 percent of the members had a median net worth of at least a million, and represents, according to the Center, “a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code.”

According to the Center’s executive director Sheila Krumholz, “Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there’s been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington. Of course, it’s undeniable that in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with.”

Yes, indeed. Her comments come as the Center alsoreportsthat candidates’ campaign committees already have raised $446 million for the 2014 midterm elections with incumbents raking in more than ten times the amount of their challengers. The midterms already are shaping up as the most expensive ever, coming in the wake of the 2012 elections’ orgy of splurging, much of it in hefty checks from anonymous big spenders whose wallets have been freed by Citizens United and other court decisions.

When it comes to the personal billfolds of Congressional incumbents, overall, Democrats slightly edge out Republicans with a median net worth just a few thousand above the million mark (in the Senate, GOP members do a little better than Dems; in the House, it’s the opposite).

Returning to the top spot after a year in the number two position is the powerful and publicity-obsessed Republican House member Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, scourge of the IRS and car alarm magnate, whose average net worth in 2012 was $464 million.  He took back the #1 title from Republican Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, whose wife Linda is the daughter of Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays.

As for their most popular investments, 74 members reported owning shares in defense contractor and appliance maker General Electric, which shelled out $4.6 million in campaign contributions during the 2012 election cycle and spent more than $21 million on lobbying in 2012. Second on the list was Wells Fargo – 58 members have shares. Its 2012 campaign contributions were almost $3.8 million, lobbying was another $6.8 million. Other top ten stock picks include Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Apple, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, IBM, Cisco Systems and AT&T, each of which makes sure to throw campaign cash at those members who help grease the skids. Would that there was such a stimulus program for the rest of us!

However, the Center notes, “real estate was the most popular investment for members of Congress. Their investments in real estate in 2012 were valued at between $442.2 million and $1.4 billion.”

So it’s like they say in the real estate business about making money: it’s all about location, location, location. Especially if your location is Capitol Hill.

(You can read the complete list of members, their assets and favorite investments here.)

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.
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  • Peter Durand

    I’m not surprised! I’ve stopped all my very small campaign contributions to candidates I really don’t know. The internet marketing campaigns for donations is simply a money scam in my mind. Think about it! If they get a return of one million people kicking in just $5.00, that’s $5000000.00 in revenue in just one day, at just a dollar, it’s still $1000000.00 in the campaign coffers! Seems to me that they’re not supporting their own desires out of pocket when they have a revenue train like they do on the internet! My Congressional congresswoman and her family have benefited greatly representing the wealthy society I live and work very hard in paying $1600.00 a month for a one bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara, Ca. Yup, real estate, lands the best buy they don’t make it anymore! Somebodies just a way lot smarter then I am, for sure!

  • Anonymous

    How many in Congress have ever been on food stamps, unemployment or worked for minimum wage or intimately known someone who has? These issues are numbers, abstractions, for most, if not all of Congress, as is job loss due to outsourcing, wage stagnation, the need for daycare or after school programs, or how to pay for skyrocketing higher education costs for themselves or their kids. The circles they move in, particularly with their obsessive fund-raising, does not expose them to the middle class and poor constituents they allegedly represent. Their social/professional contacts are high-earning individuals and corporate/financial professionals who, in return for large contributions, have access (and often favored treatment) that is denied most of their constituents. It’s a rigged, disconnected system that will only worsen until campaign financing is drastically revamped.

  • Gerald Cooper

    Startling, I guess, and we need to know these facts. What do I say to Mark Warner, after sending him $25? “Medium” is misused to mean “median,” FYI, in your piece.

  • Stephen

    I woke up this morning to my car window broken and vandalized. I live in an urban middle class neighborhood that has been savaged over the years by gangs of “smash & grab” thieves who, I am told, drive up the I-5 corridor from LA to prey on neighborhoods such as mine. i will never have a two car garage, my middle class wages are not going to allow that kind of addition to my home. One of our cars will always be parked on the curb waitng for parasites wo I guess have no way out of their particular prison of family pain and urban poverty .

  • Ellen Sandbeck

    Whenever I hear these “representatives” whining about how “we” cannot afford to fund the programs that keep so many low income families from ending up on the streets, and how “we” cannot afford to increase the deficit, I can’t help wondering who, exactly, the “we” they are talking about actually is. I don’t give a #$6$#% about the Federal Deficit, but I do care deeply about whether families are freezing to death on the streets.

  • Anonymous

    “Medium” is misused to mean “median,”

    Where did you see that?

  • Wm. Sweeney

    This is not surprising at all…for numerous reasons — having to do with the need to raise loads of $$ to get elected coupled with major parties wanting candidates to possess some life experiences and success to be considered but one of the major parties. Those experiences/successes usually translates to earning power in our country. But the primary reason this is no surprise is that a million dollars just ain’t what it used to be.

    A million dollars in 1953 is equal to $8,455,000 in 2012 (or conversely, a million today equals $118,300 in 1952). So the Marilyn movie would need to be “How to Marry an Octo Millionaire”. I don’t want to be too disparaging, but this article is really hyperbole…and just fuels…with little substantiation…the populist fantasy that the individual wealth of Congressional reps is outlandishly higher than in previous decades.

  • onyxkitteh

    No surprise, there

  • Anonymous

    Mitch McConnell joined the Senate worth $3.6M and is now worth ten times that. BTW- they’re all exempt from insider trading laws.

  • Tina Marie Husak

    Thank you so much Bill. Everyday you step up for Loving and Compassionate action, you inspire me to do so as well. Thank you.

  • Barbara Blough

    EXCELLENT question!

  • Barbara Blough

    This piece is saying that there are MORE OF THEM. Serious term limits WITH serious Campaign Funding Reform could help address this problem.

  • Barbara Blough

    I do not use the term “evil” lightly, but I think it applies to the creature called Issa.

  • Anonymous

    Campaign financing is never going to be revamped. That’s the point. The ones who could do the revamping are in charge. Change will only come from the bottom up.

  • joe ebbitt

    Thank god , Darrell , is successful . The last business endeavor he was involved with mysteriously burnt to the ground shortly after his insurance was upped.

  • NotARedneck

    With all the bribes that most members of Congress take, it would take a total screw up to not be a millionaire. However, if they do screw up, they can always go into the lobbying game where mere millionaires are considered “communists” among those buying political influence.