Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Personal Wealth of Congress

When it comes to a wealth-divided America, Congress is no different.  A yearly report from the Center for Responsive Politics looks at the 534 Members of the House and Senate and assesses each members' net worth and assesses the concentration of wealth for 2014.  The data used by CRP is gleaned from the financial disclosure forms filed by all Members of Congress in May 2014 which report their assets for the year ending December 31, 2013.  Here are some of the more interesting statistics:

1.) The median wealth for a Member of Congress in 2014 was $1.1 million.  This is significantly higher than the median wealth of $56,355 for an American family unit (2013 data).  Here is a graph that shows how the median wealth for a Member of Congress has risen from around $800,000 in 2007 to its current level:

By way of comparison, the median net worth of an American family unit declined by one-third between 2007 and 2013.  Over that same time period, the net worth of a Senator rose from $2.3 million to $2.8 million and the net worth of a member of the House rose from $708,500 to $843,507.

2.) In 2013, the 533 Members of Congress who had filed their financial disclosure forms were worth a total of $4.3 billion, equivalent to the wealth of 76,000 typical American households.  Here is a pie chart that shows the percentage of Congress' total wealth that is controlled by each percentage of members:

The 53 richest Members of Congress owned nearly 80 percent of the estimated wealth held by all members.  This is similar to the 76 percent of national wealth that is owned by the top 10 percent of households.  The top 1 percent of members control $1.442 billion in assets or 32.8 percent of the total.  The next 4 percent of members control $1.375 billion in assets or 31.3 percent of the total.  The next 5 percent of members control $627.1 billion in assets or 14.3 percent of the total.  In sharp contrast, the bottom 40 percent control only $21 million in assets or 0.5 percent of the total. 

3.) Here is a graphic showing the total value of the assets held by the 10 wealthiest Members of Congress and compares the estimated wealth in 2014 to that held in 2013:

Here is a table showing the top 15 wealthiest Members of Congress:

Representative Darrell Issa (R - California) comes in first place among all Members of Congress with an average net worth of $448.4 million.  He was the co-founder and CEO of Directed Electronics, an aftermarket automobile security and convenience product manufacturer.  Here is a graphic showing how his net worth has changed over time and compares it to the average net worth of a House member over the same time frame:

In second place among all members and first place in the Senate, we have Senator Mark Warner (D - Virginia) who had a net worth of $254.2 million in 2014.  He is a former venture capitalist and entrepreneur, founding Columbia Capital  Here is a graphic showing how his net worth has changed over time:

Now, let's look at the other end of the Congressional spectrum.  Representative David Valadao (R - California) has a net worth of negative $25 million thanks to lines of credit that he has used to fund Valadao Dairy, his dairy business in Hanford, California as we can see here:

Interestingly, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington or CREW, he was considered to be one of Congress' "Most Corrupt Members" in 2013 as shown here:

An additional 20 Members of Congress showed a negative net worth.  Poor (literally) Senator Debbie Stabenow (D - Michigan) shows a net worth of only $32,500, the funds that she has deposited in her checking account as shown here:

4.) In case you were curious, like many Americans, members of Congress hold at least part of their assets in stocks.  Here is a graphic showing the number of members who hold stocks in some of America's largest companies:

Let's close this posting by looking at the salaries and benefits that are paid to Members of Congress:

Member Salary - $174,000
Speaker of the House - $223,500
President pro tempore of the Senate - $193,400
Majority Leader in both House and Senate  - $193,400
Minority Leader in both House and Senate - $193,400

Members have not received a "pay adjustment" since 2009 when their salaries were increased by 2.8 percent.  Here's a graph showing what has happened to the salaries for members of Congress since 1992 in both constant (inflation-adjusted) and current dollars:

In addition, according to CRS Report RL30064, Members of Congress also have an annual House Allowance  of between $1.299 million and $1.638 million to cover personnel, office expenses including travel costs and official mail.  Senators have a Senate Allowance that ranging from $2.758 million to $4.417 million annually.  Members are also eligible to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Program.  They also have the option to participate in the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System.

It is interesting to see how closely the wealth distribution of the Members of Congress reflect those of the rest of the United States.  A few wealthy people at the top of the heap control the vast majority of the wealth and the the majority of members control a much smaller fraction of the total.  Other than the very obvious differences in both the average and median wealth levels, the wealth distribution sounds pretty much like America, doesn't it?    


  1. Not sure poor is anything like having 32k in a checking account.

  2. I find a little irritating that many of the companies our congresscritters love to invest in have paid ZERO federal income taxes in one or more of the last five years. GE has been accused of paying none federal income taxes at all for many years. When asked about this, Andrew Williams, a spokesman for GE responded “there is a lot of misinformation out there about what we pay in taxes, but at the most basic level: we pay taxes and we did not get a refund.”

    Not a very strong statement given that if GE paid $1 in federal income tax the statement would be true.