Clinton's wealth rose fastest among lawmakers, report finds

Washington's wealthiest legislator is Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.
Washington's wealthiest legislator is Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. Handout / MCT

WASHINGTON — Propelled by her husband's post-White House earnings, Sen. Hillary Clinton's average net worth soared from red ink to $30.7 million between 2000 and 2006, the fastest financial climb among members of Congress who arrived without assets, a watchdog group reported Tuesday.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, reported a $27.6 million surge in his and his wife's average worth from 1995 to 2006. Their worth rose over that 11-year period from an inflation-adjusted average of $8.9 million to $36.4 million, the ninth-biggest rise in Congress, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation reported.

The Sunlight Foundation posted on its Web site the first-ever comparison of the 535 House and Senate members' latest available net worth with their earlier disclosure statements. The forms don't require any explanation for shifts of fortune.

Many members of Congress have added significantly to their wealth while in office, such as Sen. Edward Kennedy's jump from an average net worth of $7.1 million in 1995 to $102.8 million in 2006. But because lawmakers are allowed to list their assets in wide ranges and exclude homes that can be worth millions of dollars, the foundation acknowledged that the data may create misimpressions.

Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama's average net worth rose from $328,442 in 2004, when he was elected to the Senate, to $799,006 in 2006. But counting Obama's and his wife Michelle's pricey Chicago home, he almost assuredly has joined the Senate's ``Millionaire's Club.''

``The disclosure system is so flawed that you can't tell whether a member of Congress is a multimillionaire or in debt,'' said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.

Clinton released her 2000 to 2006 tax returns last month and disclosed that she and her husband have earned $109 million over the last eight years, but Tuesday's data were the first to compare the couple's financial turnaround with others in Congress.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein also reported a sharp rise in her net worth, which leapt from $29.2 million in 1995 to $79.6 million in 2006.

The wealthiest members of Congress, based on their average worth, were Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., at $409.4 million; Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., at $337.4 million; and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., at $267.8 million. Harman's average net worth rose by $168.1 million from 2000 to 2006, Issa's jumped by $210.2 million during that period and Kerry's rose by $164.9 million from 1995 to 2006.

The data showed that 178 members of Congress reported declines in their average net worth, led by freshman Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., whose worth fell by $86 million. Still, he reported an average net worth of $191.7 million in 2006.

Freshman Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee watched his average net worth slide from $78.1 million to a negative $1.8 million.

Six members reported no assets, among them Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., a one-time Black Panther leader.

At the bottom was eight-term Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., with an estimated net worth of minus $4.7 million — all of it stemming from legal bills dating to his impeachment as a federal judge in 1989, even though he'd been acquitted in a bribery trial.

Bill Allison, the Sunlight Foundation senior fellow who led the research, noted that members of Congress who sink into debt are worth watching because they could be ``more open to temptation'' and ``more likely to deal with special interests.''

Members of Congress are due to file their 2007 financial statements this week.