The 5 Wealthiest Members of Congress

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, 319 of the 535 members of Congress are millionaires. That's 60%. 

And regardless of the recent economic malaise, Congressional wealth has grown.

The combined minimum net worth of this year's 50 wealthiest lawmakers was $1.6 billion, over $200 million more than in 2010.

Luckily, a series of rules adopted by Congress in 1968 allows us to keep tabs on the finances of our elected representatives. All members of Congress must publicly disclose information on their finances every year -- including stock holdings. 

So not only do we get a chance to see how much our representatives own, we get to see what they own, too. We'll cover the "how much" first, and the "what" later… 

Methodology: Financial disclosure reports only required congressmen and women to report their assets and liabilities in broad price categories (one category ranges from $5 million to $25 million), so these reports can't give an exact picture of net worth.

For example, if an investment falls into the "$5 million - $25 million" category, we don't know if it's worth $6.1 million or $24.7 million. The only thing we know for sure is it's worth AT LEAST $5 million.

To rank lawmakers by minimum net worth, we added up the minimum value of all reported assets and then subtracted the minimum value of all reported liabilities. Bear in mind, we can only calculate "minimum net worth," so each lawmaker's actual net worth could be much higher.

Without further ado, here are the five wealthiest members of Congress, according to their 2010 financial disclosures:

5) Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) -- $76.3 Million

When Warner joined the Senate in 2009, he was one of 11 freshman members that made the list of 50 wealthiest congressmen.

Since then, his net worth has grown by $6.1 million, making him the wealthiest junior senator.

Not just another trust fund baby, Warner made his millions investing in telecoms and venture capital.

He co-founded Capital Cellular Corporation and was an early investor in Nextel Communications, which was purchased by Sprint (NYSE: S) in 2005 for $36 billion.

Warner was also the founder and managing director for Columbia Capital, a venture capital firm he's still invested in.

Photo: Mark Warner
 
 
4) Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) -- $81.6 Million
 

It should come as no surprise that much of Rockefeller's wealth comes from the family that made his last name famous. Many of his assets stem from the fortune made by his great-grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil.

Many of his assets are family trusts, the two largest of which are worth at least $50 million and $25 million. And it's no wonder the Rockefeller wealth continues to trickle down through the generations.

If we calculate his wealth according to today's inflation-adjusted dollars, John D. Rockefeller was worth $336 billion. That's over five times richer than Warren Buffett!

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Photo: NASA HQ Photo

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3) Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- $193.3 Million

Where is the bulk of Kerry's cash from? Well, his wife is heir to the H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE: HNZ) fortune. Her net worth is estimated to be between $750 million and $1.2 billion.

In August 2011, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appointed Kerry to the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a new committee created in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis.

The 12-member group is responsible for recommending a plan to cut an additional $1.5 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years.

Photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund
 
 
2) Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) -- $220.4 Million
 

Coming in second (for the third year in a row) is ex-Army captain Darrell Issa, with a minimum net worth of over $220 million.

A Grand Theft Auto-type stunt pulled by Issa and his brother served as the inspiration for the business that would make him millions -- car alarms. Issa founded Directed Electronics (Nasdaq: DEIX), the nation's largest aftermarket auto electronics manufacturer.

Even if you've never heard of Directed Electronics, you've probably heard of its Viper system, which asked passers-by to "Please step away from the car" (voiced by Issa) when they were too close.
Issa is one of 257 congressmen who have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise to oppose all tax increases.

Photo: musicFIRSTcoalition

1) Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) -- $287.0 Million

Everything really is bigger in Texas -- even the wealth of its politicians.

In 2010, McCaul's fortune grew an astounding $213 million, propelling him past five congressmen (including long-time wealthiest member Sen. Kerry) to the top spot. When McCaul was first elected to the House in 2004, his minimum net worth was $12 million.

This meteoric rise in McCaul's net worth appears to come from large transfers of money to his wife, Linda McCaul, from her father, Clear Channel Communications founder and CEO Lowry Mays. According to his 2010 financial disclosure, all of McCaul's assets are attributed to his wife and dependent children.

Photo: Ed Schipul

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