The 5 Wealthiest Members of Congress (2010)
Benjamin Franklin once proposed that elected officials not be paid for their service to the nation -- a proposal that was quickly struck down by other representatives.
However, it must be said that during the recent recession members of Congress did conform somewhat to the idea of "austerity," and quietly declined their annual salary bump this year.
There are some interesting names with interesting financial backgrounds on our list of the five wealthiest members of Congress.
We compiled this list according to each lawmaker's financial disclosure report, which he or she is required to file each year.
But in mind, these financial disclosures report each member's "minimum net worth," so each lawmaker's actual net worth could be much higher.
Here are the five congressmen and congresswomen with the highest net worth, according to OpenSecrets.org:
5) Senator Mark Warner (Democrat -- Virginia)
Of the top 50 wealthiest congressmen, there are a record breaking 11 freshman members. Mark Warner jumped into the top five by reporting about $72 million in assets.
Not just another trust fund baby, Warner worked his way to the top as the co-founder of Nextel Communications, which had 20 million subscribers in the U.S. when it was purchased by Sprint (NYSE: S). Senator Warner was pressed to run for the democratic presidential candidate in 2008, but chose not to for personal reasons. He currently serves on several committees, including the powerful Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He is also pursuing Wall Street reform bills, and recently voted "Yea" to the Regulation and Oversight of the U.S. Financial System bill, as well as the bill to extend unemployment benefits.
4) Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat -- West Virginia)
His surname gives him away as American royalty. Senator Rockefeller is a descendent of the famous oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, and his fortune is largely held in private trusts valued all together at over $80 million.
Rockefeller has been a Peace Corps member and frequent volunteer. He famously voted against NAFTA in 1993 and has recently been pushing to extend unemployment benefits and insurance.
3) Representative Jane Harman (Democrat -- California)
With a minimum net worth of $112 million, Representative Harman didn't make her fortune through her lifelong political career. Her second husband, Dr. Sid Harman, sold his food company, Harman Kardon, for over $100 million. Harman International Industries, the corporate entity now run by the family, makes audio equipment.
2007 was a tough year for Representative Harman's portfolio: She lost a reported -50% of her net worth. But don't worry about the New York native -- she is still wealthy enough to be ranked #3 on our list.
2) Representative Darrell Issa (Republican -- California)
Coming in a close second is ex-Army captain and Riverside/San Diego County Representative Darrell Issa, with a minimum net worth of over $164 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. Directed Electronics (Nasdaq: DEIX) became North America's largest aftermarket auto electronics manufacturer. You may remember its Viper system, which let passers-by know that they were too close when Issa's recorded voice announced "Please step away from the car." RollCall.com, a capitol hill newspaper, reports that Issa also has two real firms and a money market fund valued at $50 million each.
This conservative recently voted "Nay" to extend unemployment benefits and "Yea" to the dense Tariff Modification bill.
1) Senator John Kerry (Democrat -- Massachusetts)
With a reported minimum net worth of $167.55 million, Senator Kerry probably doesn't have to worry that there was no salary rate hike this year.
Where is the bulk of Kerry's cash from? His wife is heir to the H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE: HNZ) food fortune. Her net worth is estimated to be between $750 million and $1.2 billion. A political legacy herself, she is the widow of Senator H. John Heinz, from whom she inherited much of her wealth.
Kerry recently voted to overhaul the U.S. financial system and to extend unemployment benefits. He is one of the most senior and most experienced members of the Senate, helping to pass hundreds of bills. With over $25 million in real assets and an estimated maximum net worth of up to $259 million he is certainly the wealthiest, too.
One final thought: Because Kerry's been a member of Congress since 1985, he's eligible to retire with a pension in excess of $50,000 per year.
Though you might not expect it, eight of the top ten most wealthy congressmen are democrats, and there is an even split between senators and representatives.
Three of 10 wealthiest congressmen are freshman members who are self-made millionaires. It seems political ambition and wealth are at least in some ways inextricably linked. Maybe after conquering the entrepreneurial world, one has to wonder, "What's next?"