Members of the second-most-exclusive club in Congress don’t reside in the poor house, but unlike the 50 richest members, the 10 “poorest” are seriously in debt.
Eight Democrats and two Republicans ranked at the bottom of the list of the 535 lawmakers in the House and Senate in our annual calculations for the 50 Richest project. These dairy farmers, lawyers, business owners and lifetime public officials have significant assets and might actually be considered wealthy by some, but they have the smallest minimum net worths because they all hold massive debts and liabilities of at least $500,000, including obligations such as mortgages on multiple homes, overdue taxes and legal fees.
Valadao, a California Republican who bears the dubious distinction of being poorest this year, actually lists more than $1 million in assets. The dairy farmer reports only three assets: his two family farms with a combined worth of at least $1.25 million and a bank account worth more than $1,000. His $5.35 million in liabilities are all farm-related, including a $1 million mortgage and multimillion-dollar lines of credit on the farm, its operating herd and animal feed.
A lawyer and former federal judge, Hastings is still paying off legal fees of more than $2 million that he incurred in a trial on charges of bribery while he was serving on a U.S. district court. The Florida Democrat was acquitted of the charges in 1983, but a federal panel later concluded he had lied and fabricated evidence. By 1989, he was removed from the court after votes by the House and Senate. He holds one other liability, a mortgage of more than $100,000 on his personal home that is comparable to the median home value for his district — $106,000.
The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz has spent most of her career in political office, starting as a state legislator in her home state of Florida. She has two mortgages with a combined worth of at least $750,000, plus $350,000 in home equity and personal loans. She also carried more than $50,000 in credit card debt in 2012. Her assets include a spouse-held $100,000 stock in the community bank where her husband works and several small bank accounts including college savings plans for her children.
4. Howard “Buck” McKeon: -$943,000
Before Congress, McKeon helped operate his family’s now-closed chain of Western-style clothing stores. The California Republican owes more than $1 million combined on two mortgages for homes in his district and Alexandria, Va., and has only $67,000 in assets composed of bank and life insurance accounts.
A family business in food-processing that filed for bankruptcy because of the recent economic recession, according to the Texas Democrat, has left him with an arbitration award of at least $1 million owed to a creditor, an additional $250,000 in business debt, and $35,000 in city and county property taxes overdue from 2010.
Israel has a mixture of mortgages, credit card debt and assumed student loans from his children that make up more than $800,000 in liabilities. The New York Democrat also has a small bank account worth less than $1,000 and a retirement account worth more than $15,000.
The Illinois Democrat has a mix of mortgages and credit card debt totaling more than $800,000. But he also has a college savings plan for his children and a pension left over from his service on the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Democratic House Caucus Vice Chairman Crowley has $850,000 in liabilities from two mortgages and a home equity line of credit. The New York Democrat counts a small retirement plan and some college savings plans for his children under his assets.
The resident commissioner for Puerto Rico’s wife’s consulting firm is listed as an asset worth at least $1 million, but some multimillion-dollar mortgages on his San Juan homes drops Pierluisi’s net worth into negative territory.
The Pennsylvania Democrat has $800,000 in mortgages and home equity loans for three properties in the greater Philadelphia area. But he also has a state retirement account worth at least $50,000 and GE common stock worth at least $100,000.
While these members appear to be in the most dire straits on paper, an alternative calculation would peg the seven members who report having no assets as the poorest. These seven members are: Democrats Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Gregory W. Meeks of New York, and Republicans Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Duncan Hunter of California and Louie Gohmert of Texas. These members do not have enough liabilities to drop into the 10 poorest, but their net worths range from -$15,000 (Sinema) to -$610,000 (Gohmert).
Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is the poorest member of the Senate, with a net worth of -$585,000. Fellow Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas is the senator with the smallest amount of assets; he has a bank account worth $1,000 to $15,000 and one for his children worth less than $1,000.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.