Wealth of members of Congress doesn’t reflect constituents’

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PROVO – U.S. representatives and senators’ personal wealth is not representative of those they represent, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

In fact, nearly half the members of the House and two thirds in the Senate are millionaires, while only about one percent of U.S. citizens can boast the same.

“You don’t need to be in the same economic shoes to adequately represent someone in Washington, but studies have suggested that lawmakers more frequently side with wealthier constituents over less wealthy constituents on some issues,” said Michael Beckel, a spokesman for CRP.

So where do the wealthiest members come from and who are they representing?  Congressional financial disclosure reports filed annually show the wealthiest member of the Senate is John Kerry, D-Mass., with an average worth of about $230 million, and in the House the top spot goes to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is worth an average of about $450 million, according to the CRP.  Other high-rollers include Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, with $380 million and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with $100 million.

Other congressmen closer to home who are part of this “millionaire club”, according to CRP analysis, include Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and BYU alumnus, with almost $4 million in assets; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,  with $16 million; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., with $69 million.  By comparison, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah and a BYU alumnus, reportedly has a worth of $513,006, while Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is worth $956,512.

The top five states BYU students come from are home to some of the wealthiest members of Congress:  Utah, California, Washington, Idaho and Texas.

Political campaign experts say multiple factors contribute to this million dollar phenomenon.  Campaigns are expensive, with the average Senate campaign in 2010 costing $8 million and the average House campaign costing $1.1 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.  High costs and deeper pockets are making it more difficult for someone with modest income to run for office, and it’s no secret national parties tend to recruit wealthy candidates to bring down their own costs.

But does financial stability cross party lines?  According to 2010’s financial reports, it does.  The Senate is home to 37 Democrats and 30 Republicans with an average net worth of more than $1 million.  The scale tips the other way in the House with 110 Republicans and 73 Democrats with more than $1 million in assets.

But the legislative branch isn’t the only place you can find millionaires at work.  The executive branch’s highest roller is Hillary Clinton, with an average net worth of $31 million in 2010, and President Barack Obama, with $7 million.  In the judicial branch, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices are millionaires, according to CRP, with Justice Stephen Breyer at the top with an average net worth of almost $6 million.

Other than a dip between 2007 and 2008, Congressional wealth has continued to rise.  While the CRP believes money doesn’t have to mean poor representation, they do recognize that many politicians live a different lifestyle than their constituents.

“The bottom line is that unemployment, underemployment, massive debt and the like are issues that are a world away for most members of Congress,” Beckel said.

So far there aren’t any billionaires in Congress, and only time will tell if the next election cycle will start an even bigger trend of high rollers in politics.

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