Congressional freshmen include dozens of millionaires, financial disclosures show

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011

The members of this year's freshman class in Congress are far wealthier than the people they represent, with dozens of millionaires joining the ranks of the House and Senate, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that 60 percent of Senate freshmen and 40 percent of new House lawmakers are worth $1 million or more, according to financial disclosure forms that provide ranges of assets held by each member. The nonprofit group, which tracks money in politics, notes that only about 1 percent of Americans are worth that much.

The new figures underscore a long-standing trend of wealth accumulation in Congress, which is populated overwhelmingly with millionaires and near-millionaires who often own multiple homes and other assets out of reach for most of the voters they represent.

The richest freshman by far is Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), with an average estimated wealth of nearly $95 million, according to the study. Much of Blumenthal's reported wealth comes from his wife's family, his disclosure statements indicate.

Blumenthal spent more than $2.5 million of his own money in his race against former professional-wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who spent $47 million of her own funds. The matchup was the most expensive congressional contest of 2010.

The next seven wealthiest rookies are all House Republicans: Diane Lynn Black of Tennessee ($49.4 million), Rick Berg of North Dakota ($39.2 million), Texas's Blake Farenthold ($35.8 million), E. Scott Rigell of Virginia ($29.9 million), James B. Renacci of Ohio ($28.4 million), Stevan Pearce of New Mexico ($23.2 million) and New York's Richard L. Hanna ($22.1 million).

At least a few members of the 2010 class, however, seem to have financial problems.

Financial disclosures by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) suggest that he is $153,000 to $482,000 in the red. Aides say the negative numbers stem from an Evanston, Ill., condominium that went into foreclosure in 2009, the period covered by the disclosure form. Walsh listed about $23,000 in income during the same year, records show.

Walsh, a tea-party-backed candidate from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, bought the apartment for $320,500 in 2004 after a divorce and took on a second $305,000 mortgage with a new wife in 2006, according to news reports.

Walsh said in an interview Wednesday that he tried in vain to sell the apartment for more than two years before negotiating a foreclosure.

"It was a perfect storm of things that came together," Walsh said, adding that his financial struggles were widely known and debated during the campaign. "I've never been a wealthy guy, and clearly for the past two years I've been lower middle class at best. My wife and I really have no assets."

Walsh grabbed headlines this year by vowing to forgo a benefits package for House members as a statement against government-supported health insurance.

Several other members may or may not be in hock. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) all reported asset numbers that are below zero at their minimums but above that line for maximums. The ranges reported in financial reports make it impossible to be more precise about members' net worth.

All in all, the Center for Responsive Politics calculates, Senate freshmen have a median net wealth of nearly $4 million and new House members have a median of about $570,000.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company