06.16.11 5:02 AM ET
How Rich Are They?
What a difference a year can make in the wallets of America’s politicians.
Rep. Charles Rangel, the disgraced former chairman of the House tax-writing committee, no longer owns the Dominican Republican vacation villa on which he he failed to pay taxes. He may have been censured by the House for his transgressions, but he booked a healthy $250,000 to $500,000 on the sale of the property.
The speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, likes to tout his business acumen from the podium, but he’s not nearly as rich as his predecessor, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who boasts one of the wealthiest portfolios in Congress.
And many of those Republicans who were swept into office last November by wooing the Tea Party faithful with a promise of reducing the national debt, it turns out, have a lot of personal debt of their own.
These are just a few of the nuggets gleaned from the annual financial-disclosure reports lawmakers filed on Wednesday, which give Americans a once-a-year glimpse into the wallets and investment interests of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
This year’s batch of reports continues one of the storylines of the last decade: Congress is still made up with a lot of wealthy people who own stocks in companies with interests in the legislative business before them.
Boehner, for instance, has overseen a Republican House that has gone to bat for tax breaks, increased drilling, and less regulation of oil companies as gas prices have risen. His personal investments, estimated at $2 million or more, include such oil giants as Exxon, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental.
While proud of his success story of rising from humble beginnings to become an executive of a plastic company, Boehner’s wealth pales in comparison to that of Pelosi, now the House minority leader after Democrats lost control of the House last fall.
The California Democrat and her husband own three properties that each are worth more than Boehner’s whole portfolio, including a commercial property in San Francisco, a vineyard in St. Helena, Calif., and a residential real-estate partnership in Sacramento. Each of the three was valued in the the $5 million to $25 million range.
Property ownership is at the center of several lawmakers’ wealth. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a lifelong public servant, reported owning 160 acres in Bullhead City, Ariz., valued at between $1,000,001 and $5 million.
Some longtime wealthy lawmakers also have emerged to new prominence this time around.
Take Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who a year ago was relatively unknown by most Americans. Today, he’s the new sheriff in televised congressional hearings, browbeating the Obama administration with high-profile investigations as the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
He can certainly afford to to take time off for the political arena. His success running a major car alarm company has earned him a financial portfolio valued at between $150 million and nearly a half billion dollars, his latest report shows.
Perhaps the newest storyline in the annual disclosure ritual belongs to those 80-plus new lawmakers who joined Congress in January. A good number of them were Republicans who rode the Tea Party wave to victory in November with a hearty promise to rein in spending and lessen the national debt.
But an analysis by The Washington Post shows that at least 30 of those lawmakers started the year with debts exceeding $50,000 each. Those debts range from loans on investment properties to some heavy credit-card tabs. Rep. Blake Farenthold, a former conservative radio talk-show host now serving his first term in Congress as a Texas Republican, has championed federal spending cuts to reduce the national debt. He reported owing between $45,000 and $150,000 on credit cards.
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