For the first time in history, most members of Congress are millionaires, according to a new analysis of personal financial disclosure data by the Center for Responsive Politics.
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 the previous year when it was $966,000. Last year only 257 members, or about 48 percent of lawmakers, had a median net worth of at least $1 million.
Breaking the numbers down further, congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million. In both cases, the figures are up from last year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively.
The richest member of Congress was, once again, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Issa, who made his fortune in the car alarm business, had an average net worth of $464 million in 2012.
The least wealthy member of Congress in 2012, at least on paper, was Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) — a slot he occupied the previous year as well. Valdao reported an average net worth of negative $12.1 million in 2012. That’s actually a big improvement from 2011, when his average net worth was negative $19 million. According to Valdao’s disclosure forms and our interviews with his staff last year, his debt is the result of loans for his family dairy farm.
Although more members of Congress are millionaires than ever before, and the median net worth for all lawmakers is higher than ever, their total net worth — the value of all their assets minus liabilities — fell from $4.2 billion in 2011 to $3.9 billion in 2012. That could be at least partly due to the change in the House reporting requirements for spousal assets and liabilities.
General Electric continued to be the most popular investment for current members of Congress. In 2011, there were 71 lawmakers who reported owning shares in the company; in 2012, there were 74. The second most popular holding was the bank Wells Fargo, in which 58 members owned shares (up from 40 in 2011). Financial firms were well-represented in the 10 most popular investments: Bank of America came in sixth (51 members) and JPMorgan Chase was seventh (49 members). Both companies had more congressional investors than in 2011 (11 more for Bank of America and 10 more for JPMorgan Chase.)
Overall, though, 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. The next most popular industry to invest in was securities and investment, with congressional investments being worth between $64.5 million and $229.6 million. Commercial banks, computers and oil and gas rounded out the top five most popular investments for lawmakers in 2012.
Members of Congress have long been far wealthier than the typical American, but the fact that now a majority of members — albeit just a hair over 50 percent — are millionaires represents 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.
“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,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center. “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.”