Green Room

While Rome Burns, Congress Members Get Richer

posted at 2:33 pm on November 28, 2010 by

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.

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Cross-posted at Libertarian Examiner. Follow me on Twitter or join me at Facebook. You can reach me at howard.portnoy@gmail.com or by posting a comment below.

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Comments

They must have stock in companies that went up. The companies have made more money thanks to jobs being sent overseas and illegal labor used for their menial work here.

Free market sucks for the little guy.

PrezHussein on November 28, 2010 at 5:19 PM

Free market sucks for the little guy.

PrezHussein on November 28, 2010 at 5:19 PM

I don’t begrudge them their wealth. I begrudge the fact that they made it dishonestly.

gryphon202 on November 28, 2010 at 9:23 PM

And, don’t forget other techniques used by Congress such as no penalty for insider trading. The majority of our Congress is made up of thieves, crooks, and liars.

RickCaird on November 29, 2010 at 7:56 AM

And what part does congress’s exemption from insider trading criminality help. The WSJ reported on that tid bit @ http://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2010/10/11/capitol-hills-stock-trading-what-the-academic-research-concludes/

amr on November 29, 2010 at 2:00 PM

They must have stock in companies that went up. The companies have made more money thanks to jobs being sent overseas and illegal labor used for their menial work here.

Free market sucks for the little guy.

PrezHussein on November 28, 2010 at 5:19 PM
——-
Yeah but you Americans loved getting fu*ked by rich people.
You idolize them.
You let them keep alllll their money (and they laugh at you for it)
You give them tax loopholes they can drive trucks through.
You allow them to ship jobs overseas.
You allow illegal labour to take place.
You have nobody to blame but yourself.

Dave Rywall on November 30, 2010 at 10:51 AM

I don’t begrudge them their wealth. I begrudge the fact that they made it dishonestly.

gryphon202 on November 28, 2010 at 9:23 PM
—–
Yet you still buy products from them.
You’re such a lazy little complainer.

Dave Rywall on November 30, 2010 at 10:52 AM

And, don’t forget other techniques used by Congress such as no penalty for insider trading. The majority of our Congress is made up of thieves, crooks, and liars.

RickCaird on November 29, 2010 at 7:56 AM
———
Again, you do nothing to change the laws.
You allow them to do everything they do.

Dave Rywall on November 30, 2010 at 10:53 AM

“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.”
——
A hilariously stupid idea.

Dave Rywall on November 30, 2010 at 10:53 AM