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OpenSecrets releases new 2015 personal financial data:  Senators get richer; others not so much

Rep. Daryl Issa (R-CA) on April 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. He is the wealthiest member of Congress (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

The majority of Congress are still millionaires, but Senators increased their net worth in 2015 at a far greater rate than Congress as a whole.

In 2015, the median net worth of Senate Republicans rose 13 percent from $2.9 million to $3.3 million, according to personal financial disclosure data filed by congressional members and reviewed by CRP researchers.

Over the same period, the median net worth of the Senate Democratic Caucus, on the other hand, rose 9 percent – still far greater than the 4.5 percent increase in combined net worth of U.S. households and nonprofits in 2015, according to a report this year from the Federal Reserve.

In 2015, more than 70 percent of Senators were millionaires, meaning most never needed to worry about the pressures that most middle-class American face – from securing gainful employment to saving for unforeseen financial shocks.  At at a time when Congress is considering changes to the tax code and healthcare legislation, this disparity calls into question their ability to adequately represent their constituents.   

In the House, median net worth of members increased only about 1 percent, from $860,000 in 2014 to $875,000 in 2015.

Millionaire club

In 2015, three Senate Republicans at least doubled their wealth in a single calendar year.

The list includes Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota (up 490 percent); Roger Wicker of Mississippi (326 percent); and Thad Cochran of Mississippi (124 percent); according the personal financial disclosures filed with the Senate.

Rounds was worth an estimated $2.7 million in 2014 and $16.2 million a year later, mostly due to his wife selling her real estate and insurance company. Wicker sold his stake in his timber company. Cochran remarried into wealth.

When members of Congress file their annual personal financial reports, they’re allowed to list the value of their assets and liabilities in broad ranges. In practical terms, that obscures exactly how much each member of Congress is worth. And the larger the value of the asset, the broader the allowable range.

To account for those ranges, CRP’s researchers establish a minimum and maximum net worth, and then use the average as an estimated net worth for each member of Congress.

Explore our data on congressional wealth, debt and investments at OpenSecrets.org.

Wealthiest politicians

In 2014 and 2015, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was again the wealthiest member of Congress. Issa, who made his fortune in the car alarm business, had an estimated net worth of about $330 million in 2015.

At least six other lawmakers had an estimated net worth in excess of $100 million as well. That included House Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado ($314 million), John Delaney of Maryland ($233 million) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California ($101 million) as well as House Republicans Dave Trott of Michigan ($177 million) and Vernon Buchanan of Florida ($116 million).

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D), whose estimated net worth of $238 million in 2015 was roughly one-quarter of the combined wealth of his 99 colleagues, was both the wealthiest senator and third wealthiest member of Congress in 2015. Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut ($81.7 million) and Dianne Feinstein of California ($79 million) were the year’s next wealthiest senators.

The least wealthy member of Congress in 2015 was again Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who reported an estimated net worth of negative $24 million, “up” from $25 million in net liabilities in 2014. Valadao’s disclosures and previous interviews with CRP indicate his debt is tied to loans for his family’s dairy farm.

The second “poorest” member of Congress was Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a United Methodist pastor and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Despite the growth in the number of congressional millionaires, total net worth of members — the value of all their assets minus liabilities — declined from $4.5 billion in 2014 to $4.2 billion in 2015.

Expect More Data to Come

While the scope of this report is limited to 2015, CRP is continuing to update the personal finances section with the more current 2016 data that was filed by members of Congress this summer.  We currently have some 2016 data and are working to process the remaining filings for those members who filed for extensions and submitted later in the year.  Follow us on Twitter to be the first to hear about future updates.

Researcher Alex Baumgart contributed to this story.

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