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Issa Tops List of 50 Richest Congressmen

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Issa is worth a minimum of $355 million, thanks to some well-performing bonds.

Rep. Darrell Issa — long one of the wealthiest lawmakers — is now the richest member of Congress with a reported minimum net worth of more than $355 million.

Indeed, the California Republican is worth a total that might make the Pentagon blush.

According to financial disclosure statements analyzed by CQ Roll Call, Issa’s assets increased by at least $135 million last year, and he made $59.47 million in income from those assets. That helped catapult him over last year’s richest member of Congress, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. McCaul this year boasts a minimum net worth of $114 million.

To put Issa’s $355 million net worth in perspective, the median household income in Issa’s district is $68,129, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. That means Issa is more than 5,000 times richer than his average constituent household. (He is 8,500 times richer than the median non-family income in his Southern California district, which contains many San Diego bedroom communities and a sliver of Orange County.)

Issa’s nine-figure year seems to be the result of a bull market and quirky accounting rules. The California Republican is heavily invested in high-yield bonds, and even though 2012 was a good year for such investments, it is the reporting requirement rules that make Issa’s returns seem so staggering.

Issa’s worth is speculative. The rules governing financial disclosures for members of Congress don’t really work for the super rich, given that members list assets and liabilities in ranges. For instance, if an asset such as a house were worth $920,000, the member would list it in the $500,001 to $1 million category. CQ Roll Call uses the minimum value of each item’s category to calculate lawmakers’ assets and liabilities, which means Issa could conceivably be a billionaire. For the ultra-wealthy, such as Issa, any account worth $50 million or more is counted at that $50 million threshold. Issa has seven accounts worth at least $50 million, and each one could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Conversely, Issa’s net worth is clouded by two personal loans. One loan, from Union Bank, falls from $25 million to $50 million. (It is, therefore, counted as $25 million.) Another loan, from Merrill Lynch, is listed at $50 million. But because there is no range above that level, it could be considerably more, and therefore, Issa might have far greater liabilities, and far less money, than we calculate.

Last year, for example, Issa reported $175 million in debt, though that, too, is misleading because he paid off at least $75 million in debt in 2011. While lawmakers are required to report the year-end value of all assets, they must disclose liabilities that exceeded $10,000 at any point in the calendar year.

That, coupled with ranges that go from $50 million to infinity, make Issa’s finances impossible to pinpoint from disclosure forms alone.

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