Rich List: Kerry, Issa, Harman most wealthy; new kids of ’09 are rich kids, too

The new kids walking the halls of Congress this year are also some of Capitol Hill’s richest lawmakers.

About a tenth of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers were either voted in during the election last November or appointed during early 2009. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), as well as appointed Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), are among the newcomers with pockets deep enough to make it on to The Hill’s Rich List.

(All 50 lawmakers and their estimated wealth can be seen on The Hill’s Rich List multimedia player)

The richest lawmaker is Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a veteran senator and 2004 presidential nominee, who has a net worth of at least $167.8 million, thanks to his wife’s fortune. Some of the members well known for their wealth, such as Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.), are also on the Rich List, with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

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Kerry and Harman have seen their fortunes decrease by millions of dollars compared to their reported wealth in previous years. Harman’s headline worth fell by more than $100 million from her 2007 estimate. Kerry saw a decline of more than $70 million. Issa, however, got richer. His wealth increased by at least $4 million, compared to reports from last year.

Most lawmakers, like other Americans, have seen stark declines in their Wall Street portfolios, but their latest financial disclosures do not suggest they are hard-up despite the recession. The average member of Congress is worth at least $2.9 million, according to their reports, although several have also reported debts that exceed their assets.

The list is a bipartisan one. Of the 50 lawmakers on the The Hill’s Rich List, 26 are Democrats and 24 are Republicans. For comparison, there are 256 Democrats in the House and 178 Republicans; in the Senate there are 59 Democrats and 40 Republicans.

The Hill based its analysis on annual financial disclosure forms that lawmakers are required to complete and file with the House clerk or Senate secretary. The disclosures are for lawmakers’ assets and liabilities as at the end of 2008. The reports are not models of transparency so the dollar numbers in the list are best guesses rather than precise figures.



Lawmakers declare assets and liabilities in ranges. One range, for example, is for values between $1 million and $5 million. Another is from $5 million to $25 million. In all cases, The Hill used the number at the bottom range. Thus, the numbers arrived at are the minimum that the lawmakers are worth, and almost certainly understate their wealth. The Hill deducted liabilities from assets before arriving at the final figure. If a financial disclosure report had exact amounts listed, those numbers were used instead, but very few forms gave information so detailed.

Sen. Herb Kohl’s (D-Wis.) ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team is estimated by Forbes magazine, for example, as being worth $278 million. But in Kohl’s financial disclosure, the franchise is an asset counted in the category of $50 million and over. Thus, The Hill used the figure $50 million. Given his liabilities, Kohl’s Rich List number ended up at $5.6 million, which places him third to last. But he probably is worth much more and may well be among the richest handful on Capitol Hill.

Thus, The Hill’s Rich List, like any calculation based on lawmakers’ financial disclosures, is not an exact science but is a snapshot using a consistent methodology.

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Lawmakers are allowed several exemptions in filling out the financial disclosure reports. Spouses only have to report assets and debts worth more than $1 million as “over $1 million,” whether or not the item is valued at $2 million or $2 billion. Personal homes, antiques and cars, among other items, are also exempt from disclosure.

The forms themselves can be inaccurate and nearly illegible, which can sometimes confuse even the lawmakers filing them. For example, Rep. Yvette Clarke’s (D-N.Y.) original form this year had her wealth pegged at around $10 million, which suggested that she was one of the richest members of Congress. Judith Kargbo, Clarke's press secretary, said her office is working with an accountant to correct the financial disclosure report and will submit an amended filing which will reflect the lawmaker's actual assets. The Hill will update the list as it receives more information.

Not every lawmaker’s financial disclosure has been made public yet. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are probably rich enough to put them on the list, but their forms are likely to remain under wraps until later this month. The Hill will publish a story when their reports are available, and slot them into the Rich List, as appropriate.



Eliza Adelson, Anna Deeds, Katelyn Ferral, David Shalleck-Klein, Nanette Light and Kiera McCaffrey contributed to this report.