WASHINGTON -- Even members of Congress – many among the country's richest people -- aren't impervious to the nation's economic recession.
Current congressional members' median wealth uncharacteristically dropped nearly 5 percent in 2008 when compared to the prior year, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of federal personal financial disclosure reports indicates.
But with 237 millionaires still serving in Congress, most of the nation's leaders are doing fine compared to many of their constituents living paycheck by paycheck, if they're earning a paycheck at all.
About 1 percent of all Americans are considered millionaires, while more than 44 percent of congressional members claim that distinction. And 50 members of Congress boast estimated wealth of at least $10 million.
"Generally speaking, members of Congress are wealthy by comparison with the vast majority of Americans. That doesn't mean they're immune to the effects of this ailing economy -- they're not," said Sheila Krumholz, the Center for Responsive Politics' executive director. "But they are much better positioned to withstand financial pressures than the people they represent."
U.S. senators currently serving have a median reportable worth of $1.79 million for 2008, down from $2.27 million in 2007, CRP's analysis indicates. Meanwhile, currently serving House members' median income was $622,254 in 2008, down from $724,258 in 2007.
This ends a notable run of congressional wealth expansion.
In 2007, for example, members of Congress then serving experienced a 13 percent increase in wealth when compared to 2006. Congressional members experienced similar year-over-year increases back to the early part of this decade.
Among Congress' biggest financial losers: Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), according to CRP's research. All experienced double-digit percentage declines in their average, estimated wealth between 2007 and 2008.
On the opposite end, however, stand Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who each experienced sharp spikes in their reported wealth.
Many members of Congress reported holding assets in companies that have come before them for financial bailout money, such as Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. Real estate holdings are the most popular investments among congressional members. This is followed by recreational and live entertainment entities – powered almost entirely by Kohl's ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team -- securities and farming.
But because members of Congress are only required to report their wealth and liabilities in broad ranges, it's impossible to precisely determine how much value their assets are worth, or have gained or lost. CRP determines the minimum and maximum possible asset values for each member of Congress to calculate a member's average estimated wealth.
Based on this criteria, Democrats occupy the top five spots in terms of average wealth among senators: Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Warner, Kerry, Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Kohl, in placing first, boasts an average wealth figure of more than $214.5 million. In contrast, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) recorded average wealth below $0.
In the House, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) placed first, with an average wealth of $251 million – top among all members of Congress. Following Issa are Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Twenty-three House members recorded average wealth in negative territory, with Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Harry Teague (D-N.M.) scraping the bottom.
This may – or may not – mean that these members are financially destitute. In addition to only requiring congressional members to report their assets in ranges, federal financial disclosures don't require members of Congress to report certain assets such as personal residences, which may represent significant stores of wealth.
"Federal disclosure requirements don't make it easy to determine the true extent of federal politicians' personal holdings," said Dan Auble, who manages CRP's database of lawmakers' personal financial information. "More transparency regarding congressional members' personal assets helps lawmakers make decisions in the interests of their constituents and discourages them from attempting to benefit from legislative actions."
CRP advocates electronic submission of personal financial disclosure reports to provide greater transparency and more meaningful access to this valuable public data.
Complete analysis of federal lawmakers' personal finances are contained within CRP's updated personal financial disclosure database, available here.