Congress and Occupy Wall Street: New Heights of Wealth and Wall Street Ties

 @http://www.twitter.rs/JoeO_IBT on December 02 2011 5:15 AM

Looking for the richest 1 percent? There's a gaggle roaming the Capitol Hill Rotunda.

At the height of Occupy Wall Street's physical presence, many suggested the movement leave the cavernous streets of Lower Manhattan and head south to Washington, D.C. Ostensibly the move would have taken lawmakers to task for not addressing occupiers' grievances. In reality, the protesters could have decried some elected officials' financial positions. Many lawmakers, it turns out, are the 1 percent.

For all the focus on Wall Street's ills and the growing income disparity in America, a prominent target has been overlooked: Congress.

Depending upon your rubric for determining wealth (whether or not you include primary residence and other personal property), 37 to 57 members of Congress are in the richest 1 percent, defined by a net worth of over $9 million. Their paths to riches vary, but the truly wealthy few (and those outside the real estate business) have stored their wealth largely in blind trusts and investments in Wall Street. Their legislation often affects their wallets directly.

And perversely, the wealthy syphoning a majority of the growth? It's happening in Washington D.C. as well.

Top 1 Percent of Congress Grabs Most Wealth, Too

According to Roll Call, Congress's net worth has grown 25 percent since 2008, with 90 percent going to the top 50 -- a.k.a. Capitol Hill's version of the 1 percent.

Georgia State University real estate professor Alan Ziobrowski has published studies tracking lawmakers' investment choices and noted they often to do much better than the average American's. His conclusion?

There is no doubt in my mind that they are trading in some way on information that is there, he told Roll Call.

The members' ties to Wall Street may not just help them manage their own wealth, but it may inform their decision-making. When President Barack Obama championed the Buffett Rule, which would increase taxes on the wealthy through mainly the capital gains tax, members of Congress were quick to deride to proposal. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 40 percent of members of the House and nearly half of all senators earned money through capital gains in 2009.

The same skewed figures apply for the median net worth of the congressional super committee, which failed to reach a deal on cutting $1.2 trillion from the budget deficit last month. Median net worth of the dozen lawmakers: $1.2 million.

The dim implication of a two-way street in funding becomes glaring when one considers the punching bag of all Wall Street haters, Goldman Sachs. According to the Center, 19 members of Congress, many of them in positions of authority, have cash sitting with the Vampire Squid. Some are on committees charged with overseeing Wall Street or hold sizable wealth. They include boldface names like Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

But the Kingpin of Goldman holdings is Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who invested an average of $550,000 with the Wall Street firm, according to the Center. He also happens to sit on the House Financial Services Committee, which decides upon many of the federal regulations that can help or hurt Goldman's business.

Goldman and its employees have seemingly returned the favor by contributing around $124,000 in campaign cash to 12 of the lawmakers invested in them.

Darrell Issa's $448 Million 

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has put himself atop the list with an estimated net worth of $448,125,000, based upon 2010 disclosure forms compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The California lawmaker amassed a fortune before taking office by founding Directed Electronics, most commonly known for the Viper car alarm. (To this day, Issa serves as the alarm's nearly iconic voice). The Republican's wealth is now invested in Greene Properties and DEI LLC, companies he reported in the over $50 million and $25 to $50 million ranges respectively.

Based upon The Hill's estimates, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is the richest member. (The Hill's formula deducts the minimum estimated outstanding liabilities against the minimum estimated value of assets, dropping Issa to No. 2). Like many of Congress's richest, McCaul's sizable wealth -- $380 million -- can be attributed to his spouse, Linda McCaul, daughter of Clear Channel Communications CEO and founder Lowry Mays. The Texas Republican's riches grew last year with the apparent passing-down of funds from the in-laws.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., famously married to ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, rounds off the top three. The onetime Democratic presidential nominee topped list of Congress's wealthiest for years, based solely upon the wealth of his spouse. Last year, 140 of the items claimed on Kerry's disclosure form fell under the category of assets held solely by his wife. That hefty sum is $231 million.

The vast majority of members of Congress are doing very well, the Center for Responsive Politics' Sheila Krumholz told USA Today. They've got the resources to tide them over through an extended sour economy.

The top 10 richest members of Congress are a difficult group to dissect. Some, like McCaul and Kerry, got lucky and married rich. Others, like Issa and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., founded profitable companies before they took office. The remaining fiscally-endowed lawmakers were largely born into a pool of wealth (hello, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.).

Party affiliation favors Democrats, who have a decisive majority at 7-3 in the top 10. Geographically, there is a notable absence from the flyover states. Both coasts and the nations southern corners are represented, but no member of the Top 10 calls corn farmers a major constituency. The Senate holds a slim 6-4 lead over the House.

Leadership positions mean little in the rankings. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tops congressional leaders, ranking eighth, with a net worth of $101 million. Next below her is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who comes in 29th with a $27 million net worth. His Democratic counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., does not even crack the top 60 with $6 million. Boehner, R-Ohio, is poorer than many members of the caucus he leads. Just making it into the top 100, he has a net worth of $4 million.

The only other significant division rests with which party holds which house. In the Senate, Democrats hold about 80 percent of the wealth; Republicans, conversely, maintain 78 percent of the wealth in the House of Representatives, according to Roll Call.

So occupiers should have taken heed. Occupy Wall Street could have justifiably transformed into Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue.

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