While Rome Burns, Congress Members Get Richer
posted at 2:33 pm on November 28, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
If you are among the 2 million Americans who lost their home to foreclosure in 2009 or have been struggling to make ends meet, maybe you’re just in the wrong line of work (assuming you have a job).
There is one segment of the workforce that has seen its aggregate wealth increase by 16 percent. It has managed this feat, moreover, despite employer evaluations so negative as to be immediate grounds for dismissal in any other industry. That group is Congress.
A recently released study by the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that between 2008 and 2009, members of the U.S. House of Representatives enjoyed a 19-percent increase in wealth, from $645,503 to $765,010. During the same period, senators settled for a more modest raise of 5 percent, from $2.27 million to $2.38 million.
The report further shows that nearly half of all federal lawmakers—261—are millionaires, a financial distinction shared by only 1 percent of the general populace. Of those congressional millionaires, 55 have an average calculated wealth of $10 million or more, and 8 are in the exclusive $100 million-plus club.
Lest you think the inequity follows party lines, it is worth noting that the richest Congress member is a Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who in 2009 reported holdings in excess of $303.5 million. Next comes fellow Californian, Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat, who reported $293.4 million. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) finishes in third place with a mere $238.8 million.
Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics, explains the phenomenon of Congressional wealth thus:
Few federal lawmakers must grapple with the financial ills—unemployment, loss of housing, wiped out savings—that have befallen millions of Americans. Congressional representatives on balance rank among the wealthiest of wealthy Americans and boast financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for most of their constituents.
Should you be wondering about those portfolios, seeking investment tips, the companies most heavily invested in were those that spend the most money lobbying federal officials, the amounts in some cases reaching into the tens of millions of dollars. Topping the current list of corporations in which Congress members have a personal stake is General Electric, stock in which is held by 82 members. Next comes Bank of America, (63 members), followed by Cisco Systems (61), Proctor & Gamble (61) and Microsoft (54).
At least 20 current members of Congress hold shares in companies that were targets of congressional or federal agency investigations, including Goldman Sachs and BP. Other companies that are favorites among Congressional investors are, not surprisingly, those at the center of legislative initiatives. At a time when Congress was putting the final ink on its 2,700-page health care reform bill before sending it to the president for his signature, a whopping 205 members of the legislature owned stock in the health care industry. As noted here, eight members of Congress own stock in a company that produces the full-body airport scanners at the center of an ongoing controversy.
It should be pointed out that not all members of Congress are sharing the wealth, if you can believe their personal financial disclosure reports. Among the anomalies is the financial report of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FA), whose average calculated wealth for 2009 was minus $4.73 million. Equally puzzling is the case of Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), whose 2009 personal financial disclosure report appears to indicate a decline in wealth of 368 percent. Then again, since parts of Stark’s handwritten federal report are illegible, it is impossible to know his true financial picture.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest legislators in the nation’s history, believed that servants of the people in government should receive no fee or reward for their services above and beyond personal expenses. Maybe it’s time to follow that sage’s sage counsel.