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Record number of U.S. Congress members millionaires

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Credit: Graphic illustration by Kayla Byler / Managing editor of design

Credit: Graphic illustration by Kayla Byler / Managing editor of design

For the first time, more than half of the U.S. Congress is made up of millionaires.

According to personal financial disclosures filed last year by members of Congress, obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics, at least 268 Congress members had a net worth of at least $1 million in 2012. There are currently 534 members of Congress, and of the 530 in Congress as of the filing deadline in May, their exact median net worth came out to be $1,008,767.

A median, the exact midpoint of a group of data, is different from an average. In this case, it represents the middle value of the assets of U.S. congressmen and women lined up from the least to the greatest in value.

The data, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website, puts the percentage of millionaires in Congress at more than 50 percent. According to the report, this is the first time a majority of Congress is composed of millionaires.

Some Ohio State students are worried about how the gap between the wealth of the average voter and the average congressman might impact economic policy. According to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, the median wealth for an adult in the U.S. is about $45,000.

“With so many millionaires, it might make it a lot easier for lower income people to be forgotten,” said Collin Callahan, a second-year in industrial and systems engineering.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 67 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with wealth and income distribution, though the question was regarding wealth in America in general, not specifically in Congress. Seventy-five percent of the Democrats surveyed and 54 percent of the Republicans surveyed reported they were either “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied.

Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said the increasing wealth of members of Congress is not inherently bad.

“The American political system is heavily reliant on money, and look, I don’t care where you come from or what your background is (financially), as long as you can represent your constituents,” said Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs. “But when the people elected end up being out of touch (with the people they represent), that’s when I think there’s a problem.”

Other OSU students said they weren’t concerned with high net worth of congressional members.

“I just hope (members of Congress) aren’t taking being selfish when looking at economic policy. They do have to listen to the people, and if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be re-elected — that’s how a democracy is supposed to work,” said Cassie Geiger, a fourth-year in international studies and French.

Geiger said, though, since the data is based on a median, there can be a lot of variation in specific representatives.

Katie Harris, a first-year in public affairs who is a Democrat, said she was more concerned with how some Congress members’ high net worths would affect their opinions.

“It seems like that would make it hard to represent your constituents if you can’t relate to them financially,” Harris said. “I don’t think the large amount of income is the reason for high incumbency, it helps, but I think a lot of it comes from the perks of people knowing your name and the influence gained from being in Congress.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politic’s reports based on disclosures from Congress members, the most financially troubled man on Capitol Hill is Republican Rep. David Valadao of California whose net worth came in at negative $12.17 million because of loans for his family dairy farm. Meanwhile, the richest member of Congress according to the 2012 filings is Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who had an average net worth of $464 million and made his money in the car alarm business.

Among those Congress members representing Ohio, Republican Sen. Rob Portman had an average net worth of more than $13.9 million, while Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown had an average net worth of about $639,000 and Democrat congresswoman Joyce Beatty had an average net worth of more than $2.64 million. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner had a net worth of about $39.2 million.

Shanae Brown, communications and technology director for OSU College Republicans, wasn’t concerned about the majority of Congress being millionaires either.

“They represent us nationally, make our laws and have very stressful jobs. In a society that pays athletes and entertainers millions upon millions of dollars a year, I don’t see an issue with what we pay our congressional representatives for what they do. That being said, most of their millions are made elsewhere — outside of Congress,” Brown, a fifth-year in neuroscience and philosophy, said in an email.

Representatives for College Democrats did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment.

Brown also said there is a misunderstanding the public sometimes has when it comes to the wealth of members of Congress.

“I think the general public has a large misconception towards politicians as these huge fat cats that drive expensive cars and wear Armani suits and watches — which is not at all the case. While most are moderately wealthy, there are still members of Congress who live modestly,” Brown said.

Stepp said people shouldn’t be concerned with the wealth breakdown and how it could affect economic policy.

“Republicans stereotypically are fighting for tax cuts on the wealthy, yet in the House they actually have a lower median net worth than Democrats,” Stepp said.

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