U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 5 mins

New (and Old) Members of Congress Are Very Rich: Good or Bad For Democracy?

Fin - Daily Ticker - US

Odds are members of this year's freshman class in Congress have more money than you… lots more.  Sixty percent of the new Senate class and 40% of the House freshman are millionaires, according to the Center of Responsive Politics (CRP).

"On balance members of Congress are just exponentially wealthier than the constituents that they represent," says David Levinthal, editor of CRP's OpenSecrets.org in this accompanying clip.

Don't be fooled by those new House Representatives sleeping in their office; with an average wealth of more than $570,000, most can probably afford to rent a place.
The latest batch of new Senators are even wealthier, averaging a net worth of $3.96 million. In total, the combined new class is worth half a billion dollars, according to CRP.

The data was primarily calculated by the Center based on personal financial disclosure reports released by the officials in 2009.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT.) is the richest new member on Capitol Hill, with an estimated worth just shy of $95 million. Other rich politicians new to Washington include:

•  Diane Lynn Black (R-TN), $49.4 million

•  Rick Berg (R-ND), $39.2 million

•  Blake Farenthold (R-TX), $35.8 million

•  Scott Rigell (R-VA), $29.9 million

•  James Renacci (R-OH), $28.4 million

•   Steve Pearce (R-NM), $23.2 million

•   Richard Hanna (R-NY), $22.1 million

Not all members of the freshman class are millionaires.  The Center found several lawmakers in the class on the opposite end of the financial spectrum.  Rep. Joe Walsh's (R-IL) has no wealth.  He's in debt at least $153,000 and as much as $481,000.  But Walsh is the exception.

Money in Politics

The wealth gap between members of Congress and their constituents is not a new trend.  It does, however, raise the question: Is this the sign of a healthy democracy or one that is losing its middle class?

On the one hand, don't we want the ambitious and successful representing the people?  Isn't it a noble calling for someone who's had success in the private sector to then want to give back to the public good?

On the other,  are these multi-millionaires in touch with the needs of the people?  A vast majority of Congress are millionaires, yet 1% of the broader population can make that same claim.

Does being wealthy make these members of Congress less susceptible to special interests and corruption? Or, does it make them less likely to raise taxes on the nation's highest earners?