How Did Members of Congress Get so Filthy Rich?

When you consider that  rank-and-file members of Congress are paid about $170,000 a year,  you have to wonder how so many of them became millionaires.  Make that multimillionaires.

Even the top dogs in the House and Senate – the Speaker, committee chairmen and so on – don’t make more than $225,000 – at least not from their paychecks.

Yet an article in Roll Call today, by Paul Singer and Jennifer Yachnin, tells us:

According to financial disclosure forms filed by Members of Congress this year, the minimum net worth in the House has jumped to $1.26 billion, and Senate net worth has climbed to at least $784 million, for a Congressional total of $2.04 billion.

These wealth totals vastly underestimate the actual net worth of Members of Congress because they are based on an accounting system that does not include homes and other non-income-generating property, which is likely to tally hundreds of millions of uncounted dollars. In addition, Roll Call’s tally is based on the minimum values of assets reported by Members on their annual financial disclosure forms; the true values of those assets may be much higher.

While wealth overall is scattered fairly evenly between the two parties, there is an interesting divide in the two chambers. Democrats hold about 80 percent of the wealth in the Senate; Republicans control about 78 percent of the wealth in the House.

And as protesters around the country decry the supposed consolidation of wealth in America, the trend can be seen starkly in Congress, a comparison suggested by American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Mark Perry. The 50 richest Members of Congress accounted for 78 percent of the net worth in the institution in 2008 ($1.29 billion of the $1.65 billion total); by 2010 the share of the 50 richest had risen to 80 percent ($1.63 billion of the $2.04 billion total). The pie of Congressional wealth got bigger, and the richest Members are getting a bigger slice.

But there is still plenty to go around. Overall, 219 Members of Congress reported having assets worth more than $1 million last year; subtracting the minimum value of their liabilities brings the total number of millionaires in Congress down to 196 – again not counting any value on their homes or other non-income-producing property. If one were to assume that every Member of Congress has $200,000 worth of equity in real estate, the total number of millionaires would rise to 220 Members, just more than 40 percent of the Congress.

Click here to read the article.

Of course, a lot of these public servants were filthy rich before they won a seat in Congress. Indeed, some spent millions of their own money getting elected.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone spend millions to get a job paying about $200,000 a year?

It could be a burning desire to serve one’s country. And then again…

According to the Roll Call article:

Alan Ziobrowski, a professor of real estate at Georgia State University, has produced studies of Congressional investment patterns indicating that lawmakers in both chambers tend to fare better in their investment portfolios than the average American, in part because “[t]here is no doubt in my mind that they are trading in some way on information that is there.”

 There’s all this information that’s just “there,” see. And your member of Congress just can’t help absorbing it and using it to make smart trades on the stock exchange while your 401 (k) is tanking because the information just isn’t “here,” where you are.

And these are the people we’re counting on to serve the interests of the American middle class?

Gimme a break!