Those Bush tax cuts for the rich might matter a lot to 261 Congressmen.
Thatâ€™s because they are millionaires, according to a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics, based on an analysis of 2009 financial disclosure forms.
That means about half of the members of Congress are millionaires, versus an estimated 7 million, or 5%, of US households, with an estimated net worth of $1 million or more, says the Spectrem Group, a Chicago consulting firm, which looked at federal data.
If you count just individuals, the percentage of the American population who are millionaires is estimated to be much lower, at 1% -- raising concerns at the Congressional watchdog group that elected officials may be out of touch with the financial problems many Americans struggle with daily as unemployment hits levels not seen in two and a half decades. The report comes as Congress is debating whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest in a lame duck session.
Who are the richest? Once again, the same Republican who has topped prior such lists, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranked No. 1. Issa, who has argued strenuously for the Bush tax cuts to remain for the upper brackets, is estimated by the Center to have a personal wealth that surpasses $303.5 million. He earned much of his fortune from founding a car alarm company, Directed Electronics, and owns numerous investments.
Another Californian comes in second, Democrat Rep Jane Harman (D-Calif.) at $293.4 million. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) comes in third at $238.8 million.
Rep. Harman is married to Sidney Harman, former Undersecretary of the Department of Commerce in the Carter administration who is the founder of Harman International Industries, an international audio and infotainment equipment company. He also purchased Newsweek for a reported $1, and is now merging that with the Daily Beast.
Kerry is married to Teresa Heinz, heiress to the Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) food fortune.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) round out the list of lawmakers who in 2009 recorded an average wealth of at least $100 million, the Center says.
Five Democrats and five Republicans comprise the 10 wealthiest in the House, the new report says. Six Democrats and four Republicans rounded out the top 10 in the Senate, the Center says.
General Electric (NYSE:GE) had the most Congressional investors, the Centerâ€™s report says, with 82 elected officials holding stakes in the conglomerate, the recipient of numerous, lucrative federal contracts.
Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) ranked second, with 63 members investing in the countryâ€™s biggest bank by assets, which also ranks among the top five companies that got the most taxpayer bailout help.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had 42 Congressional investors, just barely beating IBM (NYSE:IBM), with 41, the report says. And Coca-Colaâ€™s (NYSE:KO) 39 Congressional investors just barely beat out PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), with 36, the report says.
The Center adds that at least 20 current members of Congress were also last year invested in companies that were the targets of Congressional or federal agency probes, including Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and BP (NYSE:BP, the Center says.
And the Center says in a press release that â€śthe companies behind a number of lawmakersâ€™ favorite investments played key roles in lobbying Congress on two of the most critical legislative initiatives of the past two years: health care reform and financial regulatory reform.â€ť
At least 20 current lawmakers reported owning stakes in Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:PFE), Merck (NYSE:MRK), Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT), CVS/Caremark (NYSE:CVS), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN), the Center says.
For the most bailed out sector, the financial sector, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs were joined by Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Citigroup (NYSE:C)), the report says.
The Congressional watchdog group also says elected officials in Congress experienced more than a 16% rise in their median wealth between 2008 and 2009, to $911,510 from $785,515. And the Center says that 55 had an average estimated wealth of $10 million or more -- eight were in the $100 million plus level, five Democrats and three Republicans, the watchdog group says.
â€śCongressional representatives on balance rank among the wealthiest of wealthy Americans and boast financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for most of their constituents,â€ť said Sheila Krumholz, the Center for Responsive Politicsâ€™ executive director in a statement in the press release.
The Center adds that in 2009, U.S. House members posted median wealth at $765,010, up from $645,503 in 2008. U.S. senators are wealthier, with a median wealth of nearly $2.38 million, up from $2.27 million in 2008, the Center says.
The Center says that taxpayers should be concerned about this report because â€śthousands of companies and special interest groups have business before Congress each year or lobby Congress directly,â€ť adding, â€ślawmakers themselves sometimes have stock holdings or other financial relationships with these corporations and associations, raising the specter of conflicts of interest."
As many as 55 members had an average calculated wealth of $10 million or more in 2009, according to the Center.
Since elected officials only must report their assets and liabilities in broad ranges, the Center estimated each member's average and media wealth using the minimum and maximum value of their assets.
Complicating the process is the fact that members of Congress typically donâ€™t have to note exact prices for some large assets including personal homes. Instead they are allowed to report these values in a range of $1 million to $5 million.
Also, Congressmen only have to file these disclosure forms once annually, and on paper, meaning their asset picture could change as the information becomes stale rather quickly.
Overall, the report says that party plays little role in whether an elected official will see an increase in the value of their wealth. The report says that a dozen Democrats and seven Republicans were listed among the top 20 elected officials â€śwhose average wealth increased by the greatest percentage between 2008 and 2009,â€ť about â€śproportional with Congressâ€™ partisan makeup.â€ť