How Did Congress Get To Be Dominated By All Those Millionaires? Look No Further Than The DCCC And The NRCC, Institutions That Embody Beltway Corruption
Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767-- an increase from last year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate. (There is currently one vacancy in Congress.)
Last year only 257 members, or about 48 percent of lawmakers, had a median net worth of at least $1 million.
Members of Congress have long been far wealthier than the typical American, but the fact that now a majority of members-- albeit just a hair over 50 percent-- are millionaires represents a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code.
"Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there's been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center. "Of course, it's undeniable that in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with."
Breaking the numbers down further, congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million. In both cases, the figures are up from last year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively.
A few months ago a wealthy Democratic congressional candidate from 2012 called and told me he didn't think he would run again and would, like so many other quality candidates, wait until 2016 when he reckoned, Steve Israel would no longer he head of the DCCC. His disdain for Israel was far greater than my own-- and if you are a regular DWT reader that may be hatred to imagine. Several top candidates told me they would rather sit out 2014 than be subjected to Israel's stupidity and deceit. But this particular candidate told me Israel only had one overriding goal in his race-- and it wasn't to win the seat. "He kept demanding I spend more of my own money-- two million dollars. And he wanted that money to go into consultants he's in bed with and into spending-- primarily TV-- that doesn't win elections here. The DCCC discouraged, violently discouraged, paid canvassers or any kind of a serious ground game… in favor of spending that threw off heft commissions to their cronies and families… Israel is running a racket."
Israel is also-- like the NRCC-- working feverishly to recruit wealthy candidates, millionaires and beyond. The Jumpstart List reads like a roster of wealthy hacks who will be completely unable to empathize or even relate to the lives of grassroots Democrats. Israel is adamant that the DCCC not back candidates from working class backgrounds. One of his Jumpstarters, for example, is Sean Eldridge in upstate New York. I hear he's a nice guy and has some progressive instincts. He also has a lucky husband who was in the right place at the right time, Chris Hughes, and wound up with nearly a billion dollars. But Eldridge insists he knows what it's like to be of modest means:
Recruiting these multimillionaires instead of working class activists works out badly for Democrats. We wind up with Blue Dogs and New Dems voting with the Republicans against the interests of working families. And, worse, we wind up with members of the Democratic caucus working relentlessly behind the scenes to pull the Democratic Party ever to the right, in committees and subcommittees and in caucus meetings. It's why Obamacare is so flawed and hard to defend. It's why Wall Street regulation is so weak and getting weaker. It's why the Democrats in Congress are always playing defense and always giving in to the Republicans, the actual-- by ideal-- party of plutocracy.
But of 41 stocks listed in the top 50 in both 2011 and 2012, 33 of them had more investors in 2012 than the year before.
General Electric continued to be the most popular investment for current members of Congress. In 2011, there were 71 lawmakers who reported owning shares in the company; in 2012, there were 74. The second most popular holding was the bank Wells Fargo, in which 58 members owned shares (up from 40 in 2011). Financial firms were well-represented in the 10 most popular investments: Bank of America came in sixth (51 members) and JPMorgan Chase was seventh (49 members). Both companies had more congressional investors than in 2011 (11 more for Bank of America and 10 more for JPMorgan Chase.)
Investing in instruments like mutual funds, managed portfolios and even hedge funds continues to be a popular strategy. Besides providing good returns, they also cushion lawmakers from accusations of having a conflict of interest when they take actions on the job that might impact specific stocks.
Overall, though, real estate was the most popular investment for members of Congress. Their investments in real estate in 2012 were valued at between $442.2 million and $1.4 billion. The next most popular industry to invest in was securities and investment, with congressional investments being worth between $64.5 million and $229.6 million.
Commercial banks, computers and oil and gas rounded out the top five most popular investments for lawmakers in 2012.
One last thought-- when the DCCC comes begging to you for money for it's mediocre (and worse) candidates, keep in mind that many of them are rolling in the dough-- like worthless New Dems Scott Peters (CA), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), Patrick Murphy (FL), etc-- and that they've just spend a year in Congress voting against the interests of working families. Maybe you should consider contributing the these candidates instead.
UPDATE: An Email For Blue America
This is pretty typical. It came in this morning from a prominent Democratic activist, introducing us to a great progressive in his state trying to run against a Tea Party Republican in a red district. It ended like this:
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