Get elected to Congress and get rich: study

WASHINGTON Thu Mar 13, 2008 5:04pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The personal wealth of members of the U.S. Congress has soared in recent years, leaving lawmakers on average far more well-to-do than most Americans as of 2006, said a study on Thursday.

The median net worth of senators was estimated at $1.7 million and House of Representatives members at $675,000, said the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington watchdog group that monitors the influence of money on government.

The center released a report saying that until the recent economic slowdown, lawmakers "enjoyed an extraordinary run in their personal investments and other finances."

The report said, "Members of Congress, who are now paid about $169,000 annually, saw their net worths soar 84 percent from 2004 to 2006, on average."

Congress' wealthiest member was estimated to be California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. The Los Angeles-area lawmaker is married to Sidney Harman, founder and executive chairman of audio products maker Harman International Industries.

The center said its findings were based on lawmakers' financial disclosure reports filed most recently, covering 2006, and from reports for the preceding two years. Data for 2007 will be made public this summer, it said.

The center estimated Rep. Harman was worth $409 million in 2006, but it said her net worth could be as high as $597 million and as low as $222 million because lawmakers are only required to disclose assets and liabilities in ranges.

"Determining an official's precise net worth is impossible using the financial disclosure forms that Congress currently employs," the center said.

Based on three years of data through 2006, the most recent available, the center said 58 percent of senators could be considered millionaires, and 44 percent of House members.

Only about one percent of all U.S. adults had a net worth exceeding $1 million around the same time, the center said.

"Like a lot of Americans, as the economy did well, Congress did well -- but lawmakers did especially well," said Sheila Krumholz, the center's executive director, in a statement.

"Now that the nation's economic road is turning rougher, members of Congress have a far more comfortable cushion than most Americans have to ride it out," she said.

As investors, members of Congress are fairly typical Americans, buying mostly blue-chip stocks, the center said.

Disclosure reports showed 100 members of Congress owned stock in General Electric; 70 in Microsoft Corp; 69 in Pfizer; 69 in Cisco Systems; 65 in Intel Corp, and 61 in Exxon Mobil.

"They have millions of dollars invested in politically influential industries that they also regulate," such as real estate, banking, pharmaceuticals and energy, the center said.

(Editing by David Wiessler)

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