At least 16 of the 89 new lawmakers swept into the House for the first time two years ago on a wave of populist anger against wealthy special interests are themselves millionaires. Another 18 members of the House freshmen class are likely millionaires, an analysis of personal financial disclosure filings by the Sunlight Foundation found.
That means nearly two-fifths of the lawmakers elected to the first time in November, 2010 boasted net worths above or near seven figures. The median net worth of the U.S. population in 2010 was $57,000, according to Edward Wolff, a New York University economist.
Sunlight's examination of the House members' personal finances is the latest in series of reports we've produced on the freshmen as they near their first reelection bid.
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- Reporting team
Lawmakers are required to submit personal finance information every year, allowing the public to see assets and liabilities owned by a given politician, as well as any major transactions they make during the year. Members list properties, stocks and bonds, bank accounts, and businesses, as well as any annual salary, capital gain, or dividend that he or she earns from them. They also list any loans or mortgages that they've taken out.
Because of the way these items are reported, net worth is extremely hard to pin down. Each asset and liability is reported in a range, from $1 to $1000, for instance, or from $5 million to $25 million. That can lead to a lot of uncertainty. In 2010 Rep. Diane Lynn Black, R-Tenn., had a minimum net worth of -$7.3 million, but her maximum was almost $69.9 million. Her actual net worth could fall anywhere between those amounts.
Adding further difficulty, 17 freshmen -- nine of whom are on the list of potential millionaires -- failed to meet the initial deadline for disclosures, and sought extensions. Still other disclosures filed on time were difficult to calculate. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, who last year was deemed the wealthiest freshman, this year elected to report his finances in excruciating detail: His personal financial disclosure ran 1,500 pages.
Though the freshmen appear to be disproportionately wealthy, compared to the nation at large, at least eight members of the class that has made budget balancing a mantra appear to be well in the red.
"Government spending, deficits, and debt are the greatest threat our country faces," says Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., on his website. In 2010, Fincher was at least $640,000 under water. Reps. Raul Labrador. R-Idaho, Randy Hultgren. R-Ill., and Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., all possess liabilities that bring their maximum net worths below -$190,000.
Notable findings for the richest freshmen representatives include:
- Based primarily in real estate, a forensic sciences company, and a variety of stocks in bonds owned by her and her husband, Rep. Diane Black's average net worth jumped $33 million between 2010 and 2011.
- Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., earns between $210,000 and $2,030,000 per year from car dealerships in Butler County, Pa. He also made between $10.1 million and $50.2 million in 2011 by trading natural gas stocks
- Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, owns two homes in Texas and Colorado, and purchased an aircraft hangar last year.
- Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., worth at least $22.7 million according to this year's filings, owns numerous assets in commercial and residential real estate. Berg is now a candidate for Senate in a race that's drawing national attention and a significant amount of outside money.
- Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., earns between $$470,000 and $4.2 million per year from real estate holdings in Virginia.