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Roll Call

Senate Procures Influx of Millionaires

The Senate’s famed “millionaires club” is becoming a little crowded.

According to a Roll Call analysis of Senate financial disclosure forms filed in 2010, more than half of the chamber’s membership, 54 lawmakers, reported a minimum net worth of more than $1 million. Another four Senators fell short of that mark by less than $100,000.

In addition, more than half of the Senate’s membership saw their individual fortunes grow in 2009, the period covered by their most recent disclosure reports.

Those increases are reflected in the chamber’s combined minimum wealth, which increased to about $680 million in 2009, or more than 4 percent higher than the previous year.

Roll Call’s analysis of Senators’ wealth is based solely on the information lawmakers provide in their annual reports. The minimum value of all liabilities is subtracted from the minimum value for all assets.

Among the Senators who tallied the largest percentage increases in wealth in 2009, several lawmakers benefited from inheritances.

Sen. John Cornyn reported four new investment funds and a retirement account valued at a combined $96,000, inherited from his mother. The additional funds increased his minimum net worth 550 percent, to at least $130,000.

Despite his significant percentage increase, the Texas Republican is among the 10 poorest Senators, tied with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in 90th place.

Sen. Sherrod Brown saw his bottom line increase to $370,000, nearly 429 percent over the minimum net worth of $70,000 he disclosed in his previous report.

That increase results from an uptick in the value of the Ohio Democrat’s investment in the Mansfield, Ohio-based Brownlea Farm, which rose to at least $250,000. He had previously valued his investment in his family farm, which he first began reporting in 1992, at $15,000.

According to his office, Brown’s family had the farm reappraised in 2009 following the death of his mother. An amendment Brown filed in May states he should have previously reported his share of the farm at the higher value.

Along with another amendment Brown filed in March reevaluating his investment in his state’s pension plan, the Ohio Senator’s minimum net worth for 2008 would have been reported at $384,000.

His current $370,000 net worth places him 77th among his colleagues, tied with Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.).

Sen. Jeff Sessions, whose mother also died in 2009, reported an increased value in several properties, noting in his report that the parcels are being appraised as part of his mother’s estate.

The Alabama Republican reported the value of the largest asset, 1,100 acres of timberland, at $1 million to $5 million.

He also reported 500 acres of farmland in Wilcox County, Ala., valued at $500,000 to $1 million. He previously reported a half-interest in the same property, valuing it at $250,000 to $500,000. The report also lists three other tracts of Alabama timberland comprising another 63 acres.

Sessions’ minimum net worth increased 124 percent from $1 million to at least $2.24 million in 2009. He is now the 33rd wealthiest Member of the Senate, tied with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Both Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) also reported gains of at least 100 percent — catapulting both lawmakers out of the red after each reported a negative net worth the previous calendar year.

Baucus no longer reports a $100,000 line of credit from Sun Trust Bank, increasing his net worth to about $10,000.

Stabenow likewise dropped a $15,000 revolving line of credit from a Lansing, Mich.-based credit union, which brings her reported net worth to $0. She reports no assets and no liabilities.

It is possible that both Senators are worth significantly more, however.

While lawmakers are required to disclose their personal finances annually, the forms allow Senators to report their assets and liabilities in wide ranges, providing a sometimes imprecise summary of each lawmaker’s fiscal state.

The financial disclosure process also shields certain assets from public view, including primary or secondary residences that do not produce income, as well as artwork, antiques or other collectibles not held for investment purposes. Payments from federal retirement accounts and Social Security also are exempt from the reporting requirements.

Such exemptions likely account for the more than 43 percent drop in wealth Sen. Amy Klobuchar reported in 2009.

The Minnesota Democrat, who claimed about $300,000 in 2008, reported transferring assets from four private 401(k) retirement accounts to the government’s Thrift Savings Plan, which Senators are not required to report.

As Roll Call reported in its 50 Richest Members of Congress survey in September, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) remains the wealthiest lawmaker, with $188.37 million. Another 21 Senators also are among the richest Members.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) ranks as the poorest Member of Congress in 2009, despite the fact that he likely is among the richest.

Like most lawmakers, Kohl uses only the broad reporting categories required in the financial disclosure forms to provide information on his finances. Those forms limit the greatest minimum value of an asset to “over $50 million.”

On the forms, Kohl places the value of his NBA franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the more than $50 million category. Forbes estimated in December that the team is worth $254 million.

But with the NBA franchise contributing only $50 million to Kohl’s wealth, according to the form, and liabilities related to the team counted elsewhere at $115 million, Kohl’s minimum net worth on financial disclosures settles at negative $4.64 million.

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