U.S. lawmakers richer by 13 percent in 2007

Posted Oct. 30, 2008, at 10:22 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The American economy may be gloomy this year, but for members of Congress, the previous two years weren’t at all bad.

In fact, the lawmakers’ collective wealth increased by 13 percent from 2006 to last year, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Among them, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe was ranked the 20th-richest member of Congress and the eighth- wealthiest senator with an average net worth of $33,308,537, an increase of 76 percent over her 2006 average net worth of $18,963,031.

“The change in the value of the 2007 holdings was chiefly due to the increase in value of her husband’s stock in the company he works for,” said John Gentzel, spokesman for Snowe.

Snowe’s husband, John McKernan, is the executive chairman and chairman of the board of directors of Education Management Corp., a Pennsylvania-based provider of private post-secondary education.

McKernan also served as the corporation’s chief executive officer until February 2007. He represented Maine in the U.S. House before becoming a two-term governor of the state.

According to Gentzel, “The information relating to assets and transactions includes her husband’s enterprises.”

Sen. Susan Collins, on the other hand, was one of the “poorest” senators, ranked 89th out of 100 with an average net worth of $247,502, the lowest among the Maine delegation members.

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud ranked 276th among the 435 House members with $375,009. Democratic Rep. Tom Allen ranked 225th with $626,006.

“It is not surprising that his ranking is 276th,” Monica Castellanos, Michaud’s spokeswoman, said. “When he first ran for Congress in 2002, he did so because there were so many millionaires in Congress. He believed that it was important that working families had someone to represent them who shared their experiences.”

Snowe is the only member of the delegation whose wealth increased from 2006 to 2007. Michaud’s wealth decreased, from $505,011 in 2006 to $375,009 in 2007. Collins’ and Allen’s reported average net worth was the same for both years.

“As reported on her financial disclosure form that is available to the public, Sen. Collins is not among the wealthy members of Congress,” Jen Burita, Collins’ spokeswoman, said.

The Center for Responsive Politics’ analysis is based on the Congress members’ personal financial reports, which they are required to file every year. The 2007 numbers are the most recent available. The analysis is available on the Center’s Web site, opensecrets.org.

The financial statements are reported within a fairly wide range, so that only an approximation of a member’s net worth is available. Thus Snowe’s net worth in 2007 could have been as low as $15,018,074 or as high as $51,599,001, for an average net worth of $33,308,537.

“Worries about the economy that most members of Congress are feeling right now are likely coming from their constituents,” Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director, said in a news release. “Most members have a comfortable financial cushion to ride out any recession.”

According to the analysis, senators were the wealthiest Congress members with a median net worth of approximately $1.7 million in 2007.

Massachusetts Democratic Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy claimed two of the top three spots. Kerry was the richest senator with $336 million. Kennedy ranked third with $104 million behind Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., with $241.5 million.

In the House, though the median net worth was about $684,000, 39 percent of the members had net worth last year estimated to be at least $1 million.

Center analysts point out that the numbers actually may be higher than members’ financial statements disclose.

Dan Auble, who manages the center’s database of lawmakers’ financial information, said that some valuable information is not required to be disclosed, such as the value of any residences, unless they produce an income.

“Members of Congress don’t make it easy for the public to keep tabs on their personal holdings and any conflicts of interest those holdings present,” Auble said in a press release.

Because the statements were only for 2007, the report does not include any possible losses related to the current financial crisis and cannot be used to determine the current value of lawmakers’ holdings.

“Unless they divested before the recent market downturn, their portfolios are almost certainly worth less now,” according to the center’s news release.

Gentzel, the Snowe spokesman, said, “I am not privy to the details of the senator’s personal finances, but I know the senator has been negatively affected by the financial crisis just like anyone else who is invested in the stock market.”

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