Financial disclosure forms show that Representativesâ€™ incomes are exorbitant compared to those of people they represent, leading critics to suggest they do not share the financial concerns of average Americans.
Although the members of Congress are elected to represent average Americans, their incomes are anything but ordinary, according to newly released Congressional financial disclosure forms.
In the 435-member House of Representatives, 123 elected officials earned at least one million dollars last year, reports the Agence France-Presse. One in three senators earns seven-figures, not including the $158,100 yearly Congressional salary.
In comparison, AFP notes that less than one percent of Americans are millionaires.
“Members of Congress are recruited not from [an] ordinary cross section of America occupations,” Thomas Mann, a Congress expert at the Brookings Institution, a think tank that receives corporate and foundation funding, told AFP.
“There has been an increasing tendency for parties to seek out individuals who can self-finance at least part of their campaigns, and that has over time led to more wealthy people serving in Congress,” Mann added.
AFP reports that the richest person in the House of Representatives is California Democrat Jane Harman, who reported assets worth more than $160 million, followed Amo Houghton, a New York Republican who reported $150 million.
All members of Congress are required to submit financial disclosure forms every year detailing outside sources of income, liabilities, assets, travel paid by private interests and earnings from speeches. They are only required to submit an approximate range of earnings, not an actual dollar amount.
Among the wealthy members of Congress are Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, (D-WV) who reported over $80 million in assets; Sen. Bob Graham, (D-FL) who owns interest in a real estate firm worth between $5 and $25 million; and John Kerry (D-MA), who reported between $430,000 and $2.1 million in four separate trusts. Kerry’s wife, Theresa Heinz, is worth $1 billion, according to public records.
In 2002, the Associated Press reported that almost half the incoming members of Congress were millionaires.
Interviewed by the AP in 2002, incoming Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), who had around $1 million in assets at the time, said success in the business world increases the chances of success as a lawmaker.
“They bring a lot to the table, especially in our difficult times,” Ruppersberger told the AP. “You want people who have good judgment and have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. If people have done well, that means they’re successful. Maybe that’s part of leadership.”
Others see it differently. “Almost all members of Congress are in the top 5 percent of the population [in terms of income], and a lot of them are higher than that,” Bob McIntyre, president of Citizens for Tax Justice, told USA Today in 2003. “A lot of them are probably confused about what their typical constituent actually earns,” he said. “It’s the ‘Everything I Know I Learned at the Country Club’ theory of economics.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, (R-TN) called the argument “the old, worn-out, tired, class-warfare issue,” USA Today reported.
In May 2003, members of Congress passed a $350 billion tax cut. According to the American Prospect, by 2010, 52 percent of the total tax cuts will go to the richest one percent. More than half the members of Congress had the types of investment income that qualifies for the cuts, according to a USA Today analysis.
Author: Madeleine Baran
News Service: The NewStandard