Politics

Maybe They’re Too Rich for Congress?

Seventeen members departing the Capitol are millionaires

California Rep. Darrell Issa is not running for a 10th term this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The wealthy are heading for the exits.

So far, 44 current lawmakers, or one in 12, have announced they are retiring at the end of the year or seeking new offices away from the Capitol. And collectively, they now account for nearly a third of the $2.43 billion in cumulative riches of the 115th Congress.

Seventeen of these about-to-be former members described themselves as millionaires in their most recent financial disclosure forms, the basis for the Wealth of Congress studies conducted by Roll Call since 1990. (View the complete rankings of the net worth of the 115th Congress here.)

And of the 10 richest lawmakers, who account for 48 percent of the minimum net worth of the entire Congress, four are departing — led by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the car alarm king who’s been the richest member on Capitol Hill throughout the decade.

Watch: A Guide to Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress

Of the members who have already decided that 2018 will be their last year in Congress, 70 percent of them (31) are Republicans — and of the wealth that’s leaving, a comparable 72 percent ($564 million) belongs to those GOP members.

[Also: Wealth of Congress: Richer Than Ever, but Mostly at the Very Top]

Three GOP senators and 30 House members (22 of them Republicans) have decided to get out of public life rather than campaign for re-election. Another nine House members are giving up their seats to run for governor — by far the richest of whom is Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado (with a tech startup investment fortune above $122 million). The poorest of them is Republican Ron DeSantis of Florida (with mortgage and student loan debt putting him $357,000 in the red).

DeSantis, eight other departing Republicans and three departing Democrats are among the one-quarter of current members who reported a negative net worth when this Congress began, because their liabilities are greater than the assets they’re compelled to reveal. (The value of a member’s principal home need not get mentioned on the forms.)

By this measure, the “poorest” departing member is GOP Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington, who is $454,000 in the hole thanks to mortgages on two residential properties.

Another exiting House Republican with a negative net worth ($135,000) is Oklahoma’s Jim Bridenstine, who is not running for re-election whether or not he’s confirmed as NASA administrator.

More governor hopefuls

Eight women in the House are leaving the Hill, three of them millionaires. By far the richest, at more than $37 million, is Diane Black, who founded a firm that does employee drug testing and is running for Tennessee governor. The others, each with a minimum net worth just above $1 million, are Democrats: Colleen Hanabusa, who’s running for governor in Hawaii, and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, who’s retiring.

A majority of the retirements come from the baby boomer generation. Two of them, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, are giving up House seats for the chance to face off for the New Mexico governorship. And they represent both ends of the congressional wealth spectrum. Pearce is worth at least $7.5 million, thanks to a killing he made in the oilfield equipment business, but Lujan Grisham’s balance sheet tops out at just $85,000, about one-fifth the median minimum net worth of the current members.

 

Five retirees were born before the end of World War II. The oldest, 87-year-old GOP Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, reported being $2,000 in the black when his 13th full term began. The oldest retiring senator is Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, 83, with a net worth above $1.6 million. (He’s also one of a handful of members to include royalties for songwriting in his financial disclosure.)

Texas has the most departing members, seven of its 36 House members. The Lone Star retirees include Republican millionaires Lamar Smith ($3 million) and Blake Farenthold ($2.4 million).

Future additions

Of course, the departing lawmakers of this year will be replaced by the newcomers of 2019 — and several credible candidates for Congress look to have little trouble cracking the roster of richest members.

In Southern California, health insurance executive Andy Thorburn and Gil Cisneros, who won the state lottery eight years ago, are both in the hunt for the open 39th District House seat — and each has filed candidate financial disclosure forms signaling a net worth above $50 million.

Lucas St. Claire, an heir to the Burt’s Bees “earth friendly” cosmetics fortune, is a top Democratic prospect in Maine’s 2nd District, and wine store magnate David Trone is back for another House run, this time in Maryland’s 6th District. 

The Republican side features Senate candidates Mike Braun of Indiana, who’s worth at least $35 million after creating a successful truck parts and equipment company, and, of course, Mitt Romney, now of Utah, whose private equity fortune was calculated at $250 million when he ran for president six years ago.

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