Richest lawmakers grew wealthier as economy faltered


By Rachel Rose Hartman
Wed Sept 1

The rest of the country is still struggling with high unemployment amid a sluggish-at-best economic recovery — but the wealthiest members of Congress are in high cotton. Indeed, the top 50 wealthiest lawmakers saw their combined net worths increase last year, according to the Hill’s annual analysis of financial disclosure documents.

Combined, the 50 lawmakers were worth $1.4 billion in 2009 — an $85.1 million increase over their 2008 total — the Hill reports. The members’ total combined assets depreciated by nearly $36 million last year — but Congress’ well-to-do set also reduced their debts by a combined $120 million.

The list of 50 lawmakers spans both parties (27 Democrats and 23 Republicans) and both chambers of Congress (30 House members, 20 senators), the Hill reports.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts topped the list for the second year in a row; Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas made his debut in the top 10.

Here are profiles for the 10 most flush Hill power-and-money brokers:

1. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.): $188.6 million. Kerry’s worth, which grew by $20 million in 2009, stems from his wife’s assets. Teresa Heinz Kerry, of the Heinz ketchup family, inherited hundreds of millions upon the death of her previous husband, Sen. John Heinz.

2. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): $160.1 million. Issa actually saw his minimum net worth drop by $4 million, partly due to the poor performance of a single investment fund. Issa’s fortune stems from investments he and his wife made in the electronics market. Their company eventually became the largest producer of car anti-theft devices in the country. They sold the business in 2000.

3. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.): $152.3 million. Harman is married to audio-equipment mogul Sidney Harman; stock holdings from his company, Harman International Industries, helped Harman’s net worth grow by $40 million last year. Sidney Harman is in the process of purchasing Newsweek; the magazine’s massive debts will presumably drag down Harman’s 2010 disclosure numbers a bit.

4. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa.): $83.7 million. No surprise here: The Rockefeller family name has for generations been a byword for fabulous riches. (Rockefeller’s great-grandfather John Rockefeller was an oil magnate; inflation-adjusted figures still peg the founder of the Rockefeller fortune as the wealthiest man in history.) But the senator’s uptick in personal wealth last year came mainly from his wife’s investments.

5. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas): $73.8 million. McCaul saw his net worth double last year, mostly owing to stocks held by his wife. McCaul’s father-in-law founded the radio empire Clear Channel Communications.

6. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): $70.2 million. Warner made millions through investments in the cell phone industry, including the Nextel company.

7. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.): $56.5 million. Before his 2008 election to Congress, Polis made a fortune in online enterprises, transforming his family’s greeting card company into BlueMountain.com and founding ProFlowers.com.

8. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.): $53.5 million. Buchanan grew wealthy as the owner of multiple auto dealerships in Florida.

9. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.): $49.7 million. Lautenberg co-founded a payroll services company in the 1950s that became one of the industry’s global leaders.

10. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): $46.1 million. Most of the California lawmaker’s wealth comes from real-estate holdings and investments made by her husband.

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