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Personal Finances: Overview

In some ways, lawmakers' finances look a lot like those of many Americans. They include diverse portfolios of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate. They have bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages. The difference: Politicians generally have more money and — unlike most people they represent — they must make their investments public.

Richest Members of Congress
Name Minimum Net Worth Average Maximum Net Worth
Darrell Issa (R-Calif) $156,050,022 $303,575,011 $451,100,000
Jane Harman (D-Calif) $151,480,522 $293,454,761 $435,429,001
John Kerry (D-Mass) $182,755,534 $238,812,296 $294,869,059
Mark Warner (D-Va) $65,692,210 $174,385,102 $283,077,995
Jared Polis (D-Colo) $36,694,140 $160,909,068 $285,123,996
Herb Kohl (D-Wis) $89,358,027 $160,302,011 $231,245,995
Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla) $-69,434,661 $148,373,160 $366,180,982
Michael McCaul (R-Texas) $73,685,086 $137,611,043 $201,537,000
James E. Risch (R-Idaho) $38,936,114 $109,034,052 $179,131,990
Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa) $61,446,018 $98,832,010 $136,218,002
Top Assets
Firm Minimum Value Average Value Maximum Value
Milwaukee Bucks $254,000,000 $254,000,000 $254,000,000
LLM Partners $50,500,004 $75,750,002 $101,000,000
Harman International Industries $55,100,003 $65,175,002 $75,250,001
DEI LLC $50,000,001 $50,000,001 $50,000,001
Aegis Sciences Corp $25,000,001 $37,500,000 $50,000,000
Bilbray Tax Service $25,000,001 $37,500,000 $50,000,000
Greene Properties $25,000,001 $37,500,000 $50,000,000
Teaco Energy $25,000,001 $37,500,000 $50,000,000
Confluence Commons Inc $10,500,003 $30,750,001 $51,000,000
Procter & Gamble $8,796,962 $24,298,895 $39,800,878
Top Industries
Industry Minimum Value Maximum Value
Real Estate $478,424,112 $1,488,140,747
Recreation/Live Entertainment $255,518,006 $260,096,000
Securities & Investment $127,332,516 $403,113,112
Misc Finance $86,466,273 $188,608,215
Electronics Mfg & Services $56,662,036 $79,401,957
Oil & Gas $47,716,733 $104,559,191
Crop Production & Basic Processing $43,060,582 $159,027,480
Computers/Internet $39,914,848 $139,858,142
Health Services/HMOs $35,423,868 $83,612,796
Automotive $28,077,359 $134,069,279

The above tables are based on 2009 filings, the latest personal finance disclosure information available.

Why does this matter?

By May 15 of each year, congressional members, key staffers and top officials in the executive branch must file forms covering the preceding calendar year that detail their personal finances. By law, they must list their assets and liabilities, their income (excluding their government salaries, oddly), asset transactions, gifts they received and more. They need not list property unless it produces income, meaning their primary residence is generally not listed. They must include the source of their spouse's income, but need not report the amount.

Why should Americans care about the personal finances of their federal lawmakers? There are several key reasons:

  • Thousands of companies and special interests groups have business before Congress each year or lobby Congress directly. Some of these businesses may also find themselves the targets of congressional scrutiny for questionable business practices, accidents, even disasters. All the while, lawmakers themselves sometimes have stock holdings or other financial relationships with these corporations and associations, raising the specter of conflicts of interest.

  • About 1 percent of all Americans are millionaires. In Congress, that number regularly hovers between 40 percent and 50 percent, meaning elected leaders generally need not worry about the economic pressures many Americans face – from securing gainful employment to grappling with keeping a family financially afloat. Decide for yourself if these congressional millionaires are adequately representing your financial interests.

  • Congressional members' personal wealth keeps expanding year after year, typically at rates well beyond inflation and any tax increases. The same cannot be said for most Americans. Are your representatives getting rich in Congress and, if so, how?

  • Personal financial disclosure reports tell you a lot, but not everything. For example, they're only filed once every year, meaning the information contained may already be stale the day it’s made public. Likewise, lawmakers are only required to disclose their assets in broad ranges, meaning a truly accurate snapshot of a lawmaker's wealth is difficult to ascertain. Legislation has been already put forward to improve disclosure. Contact your member of Congress and let your voice be heard if you don't consider this level of disclosure adequate.

  • Further complicating matters: Members of Congress file their personal financial disclosure reports on paper, not by computer. This reduces their timeliness and makes analyzing the documents significantly more challenging than it would otherwise be. Ask your member of Congress to join the 21st century and demand, in the name of transparency, that these documents be filed electronically. In the meantime, support the Center's work making this information more accessible.



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