Friday, January 10, 2014

How Did Congress Get To Be Dominated By All Those Millionaires? Look No Further Than The DCCC And The NRCC, Institutions That Embody Beltway Corruption


This week the Center for Responsive Politics issued a widely cited report that makes clear that, for the first time ever, most Members of Congress have net worths of over a million dollars.
For the first time in history, most members of Congress are millionaires, according to a new analysis of personal financial disclosure data by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of 534 current members of Congress, at least 268 had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to disclosures filed last year by all members of Congress and candidates. The median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767-- an increase from last year when it was $966,000. In addition, at least one of the members elected since then, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), is a millionaire, according to forms she filed as a candidate. (There is currently one vacancy in Congress.)

Last year only 257 members, or about 48 percent of lawmakers, had a median net worth of at least $1 million.

  Members of Congress have long been far wealthier than the typical American, but the fact that now a majority of members-- albeit just a hair over 50 percent-- are millionaires represents a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code.

"Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there's been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center. "Of course, it's undeniable that in our electoral system, candidates need access to wealth to run financially viable campaigns, and the most successful fundraisers are politicians who swim in those circles to begin with."

Breaking the numbers down further, congressional Democrats had a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of almost exactly $1 million. In both cases, the figures are up from last year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively.
Democrats trending even more-- albeit slightly-- towards plutocracy that Republicans? What a shattering concept for people who want to think of the Democratic Party as the party of working families! That, after is what Democratic Party ideals encompass, right? The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt approach, embodied today by political leaders like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), perhaps Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)… and even given lip service by Wall Street-financed characters like Obama, Schumer and outright anti-working family villains like Rahm Emanuel and, scraping the bottom of the barrel, Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY) and Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL).

A few months ago a wealthy Democratic congressional candidate from 2012 called and told me he didn't think he would run again and would, like so many other quality candidates, wait until 2016 when he reckoned, Steve Israel would no longer he head of the DCCC. His disdain for Israel was far greater than my own-- and if you are a regular DWT reader that may be hard to imagine. Several top candidates told me they would rather sit out 2014 than be subjected to Israel's stupidity and deceit. But this particular candidate told me Israel only had one overriding goal in his race-- and it wasn't to win the seat. "He kept demanding I spend more of my own money-- two million dollars. And he wanted that money to go into consultants he's in bed with and into spending-- primarily TV-- that doesn't win elections here. The DCCC discouraged, violently discouraged, paid canvassers or any kind of a serious ground game… in favor of spending that threw off hefty commissions to their cronies and families… Israel is running a racket."

Israel is also-- like the NRCC-- working feverishly to recruit wealthy candidates, millionaires and beyond. The Jumpstart List reads like a roster of wealthy hacks who will be completely unable to empathize or even relate to the lives of grassroots Democrats. Israel is adamant that the DCCC not back candidates from working class backgrounds. One of his Jumpstarters, for example, is Sean Eldridge in upstate New York. I hear he's a nice guy and has some progressive instincts. He also has a lucky husband who was in the right place at the right time, Chris Hughes, and wound up with nearly a billion dollars. But Eldridge insists he knows what it's like to be of modest means:
Eldridge’s supporters note that for all the trappings of wealth he now possesses, Mr. Eldridge grew up in a middle-class community in Ohio, where both of his parents were doctors; they say he has a genuine understanding of people of modest means.
In the middle class neighborhood I grew up in, the kids who's dad were doctors were the richest kids in school, no? Someone that wealthy-- who thinks he understands "people of modest means" because both his parents were "merely" doctors-- is more likely than not to be a conservative scumbag when it comes to issues of economic justice-- like Maloney next door has proven to be. Eldridge and his husband have contributed quite a bit of money to Maloney's campaign so presumably they approve of his reactionary-- or cowardly-- agenda.

Recruiting these multimillionaires instead of working class activists works out badly for Democrats. We wind up with Blue Dogs and New Dems voting with the Republicans against the interests of working families. And, worse, we wind up with members of the Democratic caucus working relentlessly behind the scenes to pull the Democratic Party ever to the right, in committees and subcommittees and in caucus meetings. It's why Obamacare is so flawed and hard to defend. It's why Wall Street regulation is so weak and getting weaker. It's why the Democrats in Congress are always playing defense and always giving in to the Republicans, the actual-- by ideal-- party of plutocracy.
Last year we noted that an analysis of the top 50 investments held by members of Congress showed most companies had fewer congressional investors in 2011 than in 2010, a trend that had been ongoing for several years. We noted last year that only 11 stocks in the top 50 had more investors in 2011 than in 2010.

But of 41 stocks listed in the top 50 in both 2011 and 2012, 33 of them had more investors in 2012 than the year before.

General Electric continued to be the most popular investment for current members of Congress. In 2011, there were 71 lawmakers who reported owning shares in the company; in 2012, there were 74. The second most popular holding was the bank Wells Fargo, in which 58 members owned shares (up from 40 in 2011). Financial firms were well-represented in the 10 most popular investments: Bank of America came in sixth (51 members) and JPMorgan Chase was seventh (49 members). Both companies had more congressional investors than in 2011 (11 more for Bank of America and 10 more for JPMorgan Chase.)

Investing in instruments like mutual funds, managed portfolios and even hedge funds continues to be a popular strategy. Besides providing good returns, they also cushion lawmakers from accusations of having a conflict of interest when they take actions on the job that might impact specific stocks.

Overall, though, real estate was the most popular investment for members of Congress. Their investments in real estate in 2012 were valued at  between $442.2 million and $1.4 billion. The next most popular industry to invest in was securities and investment, with congressional investments being worth between $64.5 million and $229.6 million.

Commercial banks, computers and oil and gas rounded out the top five most popular investments for lawmakers in 2012.
There are some good millionaires in Congress. But most of them aren't. And it would take a lot to persuade me to vote for any more of them. Steve Israel is the worst DCCC chairman in history-- and that says a lot-- and the Democratic Party will never win back the majority as long as he's in power and setting the agenda for the committee. He's the worst mistake of Nancy Pelosi's entire career. I'm saving the story of how he defrauded his synagogue (and the U.S. government) for my upcoming sit-com.

One last thought-- when the DCCC comes begging to you for money for it's mediocre (and worse) candidates, keep in mind that many of them are rolling in the dough-- like worthless New Dems Scott Peters (CA), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), Patrick Murphy (FL), etc-- and that they've just spent a year in Congress voting against the interests of working families. Maybe you should consider contributing to these candidates instead.

UPDATE: An Email For Blue America

This is pretty typical. It came in this morning from a prominent Democratic activist, introducing us to a great progressive in his state trying to run against a Tea Party Republican in a red district. It ended like this:
Let me know if you'd be interested in talking with him. I can make an introduction. He will need all the help he can get, because neither the state Democratic Party nor the DCCC will lift a finger to support congressional candidates here unless they are big self-funders.

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At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Very good point about donating to the ones who really NEED the money.

And I realize the gap has gotten much worse tween the have and have nots, but a million dollar net worth isn't so unusual these days when you consider even depressed real estate values.

Alan Grayson, who I am a fan of, is one of the worst at rich people begging.


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