Roll Call’s annual attempt to rank the riches of Members of Congress is hampered by one fundamental flaw: It is based on the lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms, which are extraordinarily unreliable sources of information.
The disclosure rules allow Members to report assets in broad categories, so there is no way to tell the difference between a $20 million investment and a $5 million investment. The top category on the Members’ forms is “over $50 million,” so it is impossible to accurately account for anything worth more than that — like a professional sports team, for example. There is also a gaping loophole for assets owned by the Members’ spouse or dependent children; anything worth more than $1 million in value can be reported as “over $1 million.” There is no way to tell whether that is $1.2 million or $1.2 billion.
The rules also don’t require reporting things of value that are not used to produce income — most notably any primary residence or other home that is not used for rentals. That loophole removes from most Members’ portfolios hundreds of thousands of dollars and in come cases millions of dollars worth of assets. Airplanes, fancy cars, antiques or other valuable items are not reported.
In filing a detailed disclosure form on behalf of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), his accountants added this editorial note, which sums up the problem: The form is meant to comply with Senate disclosure rules but “is not intended to be a complete presentation of Senator Corker’s financial position.”
Beyond all of these flaws, there remains the fact that many, many financial disclosure forms filed by Members of Congress are simply inaccurate. A check mark placed in the wrong box can inflate or deflate a Member’s apparent net worth by millions of dollars, and misunderstandings of the rules have led Members to understate some assets, overstate others and claim additional assets they no longer own.
Where the errors are obvious or have created noticeable discrepancies from prior-year filings, Roll Call has attempted to contact the offices to get a proper understanding of the actual value of the asset or assets in question.
What remains below is a ranking of the 50 wealthiest Members of Congress based on the minimum net worth reported on their financial disclosure forms. To achieve these numbers, Roll Call totaled the assets listed on financial disclosure forms filed in 2008 (covering calendar year 2007) using the lowest number in the ranges in which Members are required to report. An asset from $500,000 to $1 million is counted as being worth $500,000, unless the Member has provided a brokerage statement or other documentation that offers more specific detail.
Liabilities, which are also reported in ranges, are calculated based on the minimum value, and are subtracted from total minimum assets to establish total net worth.
Assets that are not included on the forms but have values that have been established by Roll Call or other publications are not included for the purposes of assembling this ranking, because the Members are not required to report these numbers. This ranking is based only on what is reported on the annual disclosure forms. The Top 5 are below:
- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) - $230.98 Million
- Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) - $225.96 Million
- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) - $160.62 Million
- Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) - $80.40 Million
- Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) - $78.96 Million
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