Every year since 1990, Roll Call has raked through the financial disclosure forms members of Congress are required to file to create our Wealth of Congress Index. In the course of analyzing the data from the 541 people elected to represent Americans in the Capitol, we discover scores of interesting things that illustrate how they make their money, how they keep it and how some use the illusion of transparency to their advantage.
Roll Call's Wealth of Congress Index takes a deep dive into the finances of the 50 richest members of Congress, as well as the 10 "poorest," by condensing forms that are imperfect at best — given that members are required to report values only in broad ranges of minimums. For the past several years, our equation for calculating the minimum net worth of each member has remained the same: Total minimum reported value of assets minus total minimum reported value of liabilities equals total minimum net worth.
This year's Wealth of Congress Index, derived from forms covering the 2014 calendar year, shows it took a minimum net worth of $7.28 million to crack the exclusive 50 richest club.
They invested in an Italian soccer team, an aquaculture business, Subway sandwich franchises, the ride-share phenomenon Uber and good old blue chip stocks and bonds. The richest members of Congress found myriad ways to get wealthier in 2013, CQ Roll Call’s annual survey of congressional wealth shows.
A surprisingly strong year in the financial markets made the richest members of Congress even wealthier in 2012, with the median net worth of the 50 richest rising more than 17 percent, CQ Roll Call’s annual survey of congressional wealth shows.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is the richest Member of Congress for the second year in a row, reporting a vast fortune that in 2011 had a minimum net worth surpassing $300 million for the first time. McCaul is followed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who reported a minimum net worth of $198.65 million, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who reported a minimum net worth of $140.55 million. The two lawmakers swapped places since last year's list.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the bank accounts. According to Roll Call's annual survey of Member wealth, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is now the richest Member of Congress, with a fortune worth at least $294 million, a vast increase over last year that was apparently the result of large transfers from his in-laws.
Additional 2011 Capital in the Capitol Coverage
While the economy stagnated in 2009, the personal fortunes of Congress’ wealthiest Members underwent seismic shifts — at least on paper. Roll Call’s annual survey of the 50 Richest Members of Congress found the personal fortune of Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) exploded in 2009, nearly doubling his minimum net worth, while the bottom line for Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) shrunk by more 70 percent.
Even membership in Congress’ most exclusive club couldn’t insulate lawmakers from the economic downturn. According to Roll Call’s annual examination of House and Senate financial disclosure forms, while the 50 richest Members of Congress remain financially flush — each with a minimum net worth of nearly $5.5 million — many of them suffered significant financial losses in 2008.
Everything that you are about to read might be wrong. Roll Call’s annual attempt to rank the riches of Members of Congress is hampered by one fundamental flaw: It is based on the lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms, which are extraordinarily unreliable sources of information.
Some things change and some things stay the same, especially when it comes to rich Members of Congress. In the dozen years since former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) stormed the Capitol and led Republicans into the majority, more than one-quarter of the Senators and House Members on Roll Call’s “Contract With America”-era list of the 50 richest lawmakers continue to be among the 50 wealthiest today.
And the rich just keep getting richer. For the 50 richest Members of Congress, 2005 was great for the bottom line, according to Roll Call’s annual survey of lawmakers’ personal wealth. All told, 20 lawmakers who made the Roll Call list in both 2005 and 2006 increased their estimated worth, and even the House Members and Senators at the bottom of this year’s list boasted personal fortunes in excess of $4.67 million, according to financial-disclosure reports. That is up nearly 12 percent from the cutoff for the 2005 list of $4.17 million.
While American households experienced a 5 percent jump in their net worth last year, the 50 richest Members of Congress watched their combined wealth tumble. But don’t bring out the hankies just yet. In 2004, the 50 richest Members of Congress boasted a combined net worth of $2.15 billion — about 30 percent less than the $3.1 billion figure from the year before.
After more than a decade of surveying the accumulated wealth of Members of Congress, Roll Call has found the institution’s first official billionaire — and this lucky fellow is a man very much in the news today. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democrats’ presidential nominee, and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, are worth, by conservative estimates, at least $900 million and possibly as much as $3.2 billion.
The sluggish economy has taken its toll on Roll Call’s annual survey of the 50 Richest Members of Congress — their collective net worth dropped from $2.8 billion in 2001 to $2.6 billion by the end of 2002. Declining stock values accounted for the bulk of the dip, while real estate holdings, for the most part, were stable.