Who’s rich, who’s poor? Lawmakers show us their money
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, tops a list of richest congressional leaders with an estimated net worth of $357.25 million.
FILE PHOTO: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON – California’s congressional representatives are among the richest and – surprise – among the poorest of Congress’ lawmakers, according to federally required financial disclosure reports.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista took the top spot as the richest member for the second year in a row with $357.25 million in estimated net worth. He did it, in part, with seven high-yield bonds listed as being worth more than $50 million.
Along with ranking, the Roll Call report revealed lawmakers’ investments. Some highlights:
• Freshman Rep. Scott Peters, D-La Jolla, had investment success from the millions he earned in the 1990s as an environmental attorney. His wife, Lynn Gorguze, holds at least $14 million in assets, Roll Call reported. Peters landed at No. 8.
• Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has various business holdings, including “in Current Media, the company headed by former Vice President Al Gore that was sold to Al Jazeera,” Roll Call reported. She came in at No. 9.
• Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, has a property portfolio that nearly doubled. He is No. 13 with $32.97 million.
• Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, benefited from her husband’s investment decisions, with a minimum net worth of $29.1 million. For example, Paul Pelosi’s investment in broadcast and cable TV company Comcast doubled to $500,000 in 2013 from 2012. The couple’s joint investments include a vineyard worth at least $5 million. They landed at No. 14 berth on the Top 50 list.
• Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine, who made his first fortune in managing and owning car dealerships, is also doing well with real estate, according to Roll Call. He was No. 40, with $10.21 million.
The No. 1 “poorest” member of Congress was Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, who has a net worth that is “a mystery” and is “a prime example of how imprecise congressional financial disclosure requirements are,” said Roll Call, of the report released Sunday night. Valadao has a dairy farm and five separate million-dollar-plus liabilities related to the farm.
Also in the bottom list were Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, and Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, both with big mortgages to thank for upside-down finances. Rohrabacher, however, gets an asterisk because disclosure rules require his mortgage be counted even though he paid it off last year.
All told, the Top 50 congressional wallets grew fatter in 2013 compared with 2012, including the six from California. “It took a minimum reported net worth of at least $7.4 million just to crack the exclusive 50 richest club, up 10 percent from $6.7 million when we did the project one year ago,” Roll Call reported. Many benefited from a stock market that posted its largest gains since the mid-1990s.
Of course, sharing personal money data isn’t lawmakers’ favorite thing.
“It’s a media obsession based on inexact tables,” said Issa’s spokesman, Frederick Hill. “Interpretations of who is the wealthiest, a ranking, is not what the forms are intended for. The public interest is in seeing where it is invested” for possible conflicts of interest, he said, “not seeing the exact value of particular investments.”
A fuller view of Issa’s wealth would show him rising from working family roots and his early entrepreneurial success building a car alarm company, long before he was elected to Congress in 2000, Hill said.
Still, some call for more disclosure. “I would put disclosure in quotes,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation, whose goal is to increase transparency and accountability in Congress and government. There are “very broad categories of value and a number of things are exempt. I don’t think it inspires in constituents that we have a very accurate accounting of the financial interests of lawmakers.”
Kiely added: “That’s just part of the contract, that’s part of the deal and lawmakers should be more forthcoming than the current law requires,” she said.
Voters, though, aren’t necessarily repelled by wealth in Congress, said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. Voters may see wealth as a sign of accomplishment and experience. John F. Kennedy is modern history’s example of the combination of great wealth and leadership – and his wealth was inherited.
More likely, Pitney said, is that a rich politician will get into trouble with how he or she relates to voters of all incomes – as presidential candidate Mitt Romney did with his “47 percent” statement.
The rankings’ financial picture, Roll Call said, is not precise because of reporting rules. For instance, home mortgages are counted as a liability while the remaining value of a home isn’t counted.
David Hood of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.
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