How Barack Obama Made His Fortune

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(Pinterest)

Two weeks ago, we looked at how Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for Vice president, made all of his money. The answer? Natural resources, land rights, and stocks, all invested in mutual funds and limited partnerships.

We got a lot of requests to do the same thing to Barack Obama, and for him the answer is much easier.

First of all, Obama has released copies of his tax returns, so we're able to produce hard numbers when it comes to what he makes.

Second, his investment strategies are much more coherent than Ryan's. Obama made his fortune from a few sources, and has it invested and stored in a few surprising — but also easy to track — ways.

We got the information from personal finance disclosures and released tax returns hosted by the Center for Responsive Politics.

So, here's a timeline of how Barack Obama went from middle class to a multimillionaire.

While he was an Illinois state senator, both parents in the Obama family were working

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(Wikimedia Commons)

In his 2004 financial statements, Barack Obama indicated that he had three sources of income. One was an $80,287 salary from the Illinois Senate, where he was a state senator.

The other was a $32,144 salary from the University of Chicago Law School, where Obama taught as a lecturer while he was in the statehouse.

The third was Michelle's salary from the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she was an administrator.


While the picture is fuzzy before 2001, here's where Obama kept the money he made from Dreams From My Father in 1995 and his law career


The Obamas had investments in three different assets in 2004.

First was the Illinois State Senate Pension Fund, which Obama listed as worth something between $50,000 and $100,000.

The other two were investments in funds with Vanguard, the investment management company.

Obama had investments in the Vanguard Wellington Fund, which he evaluated as worth between $100,000 and $200,000. The Wellington Fund consists of around 60 to 70 percent stocks and 30 percent to 40 percent bonds and is essentially a fundamental mutual fund.

The Obamas also had $50,000 to $100,000 invested in the Vanguard Wellesley Fund. This Fund is more bond-heavy than most balanced funds, with exposure to around two-thirds bonds to one-third stocks.

He then scored a huge book deal after the 2004 Democratic National Convention

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(Random House)

After giving the keynote address at the 2004 convention as a candidate for Senate — The speech, "The Audacity of Hope," was a slam-dunk that propelled Obama's popularity upwards in the years before his presidential campaign — Obama inked a number of book deals with Random House.

This is the real money.

He signed a deal for 2 nonfiction books and one children's book. One nonfiction would be The Audacity of Hope, an extended version of his 2004 speech. The children's book — we believe — became Of Thee I Sing,  with proceeds going to charity.

Here are the terms of the book deals that made Obama phenomenally rich


After January of 2005, Obama will receive a $1.9 million advance on The Audacity of Hope.

For that book, the deal says that he gets 15 percent of the list price for Hardcover copies, 7 percent of the list price for the trade paperback version, then 8 percent of list price for the first 150,000 issues sold of the mass market paperback, then 10 percent of the list price thereafter.

He also gets 10 percent of Audio book sales. He would go on to win a Grammy for his recording, too.

Random House also republished his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, generating more sales.

By 2005, he had money in a number of different assets — including on again, off again political foe JP Morgan

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(Twitter/@BarackObama)

Once he got the money, he didn't just let it sit in a bank account. He invested.

He got a JPMorgan Chase Private Client Asset Management account, worth at least a hundred thousand dollars. His checking account with Northern Trust was worth between $250,000 and $500,000, and he also banked with UBS.

He got $378,237 in royalties from Dystel & Goderich, his literary agent for Dreams From My Father, and another advance from Random House, $847,167.

By this point, he was worth between $1.1 million and $2.5 million.

From 2006 to 2007, he used the royalties from his books to buy a ton of Treasury notes

During the two years before his presidential run, he cemented his wealth.

In 2006 he got $147,490 for Dreams From My Father and $425,000 from Random House for The Audacity of Hope. In 2007, as his presidential run made him a household name, book sales skyrocketed. He got $815,971 for Dreams and $3.28 million for Audacity.

With the money from this, he made a number of consequential financial choices. He bought somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million worth of U.S. Treasury Notes. He moved the money from the two Vanguard Wellington Mutual Funds to the Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund, which invests based on "certain social, human rights, and environmental criteria."

In 2007, He also made one of his largest investments in Sasha and Malia's future


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Obama in 2007 bought two Bright Directions Age-Based Growth Plans, one for Sasha and the other for Malia.

The plans will pay for their college educations. It's not clear which portfolio he went for — the Balanced, Aggressive, or Growth option — but each was worth between $50,000 and $100,000. By 2010, the portfolios were worth $100,000 to $200,000 each.

The year he ran for President he bought millions of dollars worth of U.S. Treasury Bills

Likely distracted by the race, Obama didn't make any major changes besides investing even more in U.S. Treasury Bills.

By the time he was sworn in, Obama owned somewhere between $1.1 million and $5.1 million worth of U.S. Treasury Bills, comprising most of his net worth. His other assets were worth between $411,000 and $915,000. He did not collect any income from his books.

In 2009, he gave the approximately $1.4 million Nobel Prize money to these charities

When Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he told the prize committee to wire the money directly to the following charities:

  • $250,000 to Fisher House, which gives free housing to veterans and military families getting medical treatment.
  • $200,000, plus any remaining unallocated money, to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund of the Clinton Foundation, a fund that helped rebuild Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.
  • $125,000 to the American Indian College Fund, which gives scholarships to Native Americans.
  • $125,000 to the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, which gives scholarships to low-income residents of the Appalachia region.
  • $125,000 to College Summit, an organization that aims to raise college enrollment rates.
  • $125,000 to the Posse Foundation, which provides full scholarships to extraordinary high school students.
  • $125,000 to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to Latino students.
  • $125,000 to the United Negro College Fund, which gives scholarships to Black students.
  • $100,000 to Africare, an organization that builds wells and treats disease in Africa.
  • $100,000 to the Central Asia Institute, which focuses on education and public health, primarily for girls in Central Asia

Besides all of that, Obama is receiving compensation for his day job.

The President's salary is $400,000 per year. By now, he's received $1.6 million for his first term.
As a United States Senator, Obama was making $174,000 per year. Since he spent four years there, He banked around $696,000 over the course of his term.

All told, in his time in federal government, Obama made (pre-tax) $1.1 million.

His estimated net worth is between $2.8 million and $11.8 million in 2010.

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