Wealthy lawmakers increased their riches as U.S. economy sputtered in '09
By Kevin Bogardus and Barbra Kim - 08/31/10 06:00 AM ET
The wealthiest members of Congress grew richer in 2009 even as the economy struggled to recover from a deep recession.
The 50 wealthiest lawmakers were worth almost $1.4 billion in 2009, about $85.1 million more than 12 months earlier, according to The Hill’s annual review of lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tops the list for the second year in a row. His minimum net worth was $188.6 million at the end of 2009, up by more than $20 million from 2008, according to his financial disclosure form.While the economy struggled through a recession during much of 2009 and the nation’s unemployment rate soared to 10 percent, the stock market rebounded, helping lawmakers with large investments. The S&P 500 rose by about 28 percent in 2009.
Total assets for the 50 wealthiest lawmakers in 2009 was $1.5 billion — that’s actually a nearly $36 million drop from a year ago. But lawmakers reduced their liabilities by even more, cutting debts by $120 million last year.
There are various reasons why asset values dropped. Some lawmakers saw their real estate holdings fall as the housing crisis intensified. A handful of lawmakers also had other investments or businesses that turned sour.
The only newcomer to the Top 10 list is Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who came straight in at No. 5. He replaced Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.), the 10th wealthiest member in 2008. Teague fell off the top 50 list after the value of a company he has a stake in — Teaco Energy Services Inc. — fell in value from $39.6 million in 2008 to at the least $1 million in 2009.
There were a few other new faces in the Top 50, including Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who received an inheritance after his late father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), died in 2009.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) also made the list.
Twenty-seven Democrats along with 23 Republicans make up the 50 richest in Congress; 30 House members and 20 senators are on the list.
The bulk of Kerry’s wealth is credited to his spouse, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars after her late husband, the ketchup heir Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), died in a plane crash in 1991.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with a net worth of $160.1 million, is the second-richest member of Congress under The Hill’s formula, even though his wealth declined by more than $4 million in 2009.
He is followed by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who saw her net wealth leap to $152.3 million, a jump of more than $40 million from a year ago.
The rest of the top 10 are Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), McCaul, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
To calculate its rankings, The Hill used only the lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms that cover the 2009 calendar year.
Lawmakers are only required to report their finances in broad ranges. For example, a $2.5 million vacation home in Aspen, Colo., would be reported as being valued at between $1 and $5 million on a congressional financial disclosure form.
To come up with the most conservative estimate for each lawmaker’s wealth, researchers took the bottom number of each range reported. Then, to calculate the minimum net worth for each senator and member, the sum of liabilities was subtracted from the sum of assets.
As a result, the methodology used to find the Top 50 wealthiest in Congress can miss some of the richest lawmakers.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is certainly one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill. As owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Kohl has a $254 million asset on his hands, according to Forbes magazine.
But under The Hill’s methodology, his team ownership only counts for $50 million, the highest range reported on the congressional financial disclosure form. Because of high liabilities on his 2009 form, Kohl actually is listed as being more than $4.6 million in debt on the 2009 form.
—Walter Alarkon, Richard Barry, Silla Brush, Jordan Fabian, Beth Hawley, Michaela Martens and Eden Stiffman all contributed to this report.