Who's worth what on Capitol Hill?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Our representatives in Washington are just like us ... if we're millionaires, that is.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates the enlightening www.opensecrets.org Web site, the average U.S. senator had a median net worth of about $.7 million in 2006, and 58 percent of them could be considered millionaires.

The average member of the House of Representatives has a median net worth of about $675,000, with 44 percent of members have net worths estimated to be at least $1 million.

That compares to about 1 percent of all American adults who had a net worth greater than $1 million.

Using income and asset information federal lawmakers are required to report each year -- which lists a range of possible value -- the watchdog group adds the assets and subtracts the liabilities to come up with a net worth for senators and congressmen.

McCook native Ben Nelson is No. 16 on the list with a net worth between $7 million and $19.8 million, while Sen. Chuck Hagel is worth between $2.2 million and $7.5 million.

Both are far behind Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, worth between $221.6 million and $314 million.

Congressmen apparently don't do as well, with 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith having a net worth between $35,000 and $376,000, or 354th among all members of the House. 1st District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was listed at $130,000 to $540,000 and 317, and Rep. Lee Terry of the 2nd District ranked 339 with a net worth of between $51,000 and $456,000.

So what should voters think about the information?

Well, for one, there's nothing wrong with having successful people represent us in Washington -- in fact, someone who has amassed personal wealth should be commended for agreeing to spend his or her time in the service of the people.

Of course, the power that comes with elected office can prove to be a terrible temptation for someone with a moral weakness.

Then, again, being wealthy might be perceived as giving a member of Congress the ability to vote independently. Or, could it be seen as making him or her unresponsive to the voters?

And, will a Senator or Representative living on a shoestring be more prone to selling his or her vote to the highest bidder?

It's a wise law that requires our elected leaders to reveal their personal wealth and sources of income. Something about attaching dollars and cents to specific issues and causes brings them into clarity.

But it's also further evidence that those who are willing to stand for election, and willing to be exposed to the spotlight of public scrutiny, are special people indeed.

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