How Rich Is Congress? Most Lawmakers Are Now Millionaires

It's a thin majority, but with at least 268 out of 534 members of Congress reporting an average net worth of $1 million or more, our federal government's bicameral legislature is now mostly composed of millionaires.

The Center for Responsive Politics, having analyzed personal financial disclosure data for 2012, found that "the median net worth for the 530 current lawmakers who were in Congress as of the May filing deadline was $1,008,767" -- up from the previous year's result, $966,000. "Last year only 257 members, or about 48% of lawmakers, had a median net worth of at least $1 million," the Center reports.

Overall, Congressional Democrats are slightly wealthier than their Republican colleagues: the median net worth was $1.04 million for the Blue Team, and almost exactly $1 million for the Red. And senators are significantly richer than House members: the median net worth for the former was a cool $2.5 million, versus $896,000 for the latter.

Democrats edged Republicans in the House -- $929,000 median net worth to $884,000 -- but elephants trampled donkeys in the Senate, $2.9 million to $1.7 million. In the House, both sides of the aisle have gotten richer since 2011, while in the Senate the Democrats' median figure lost $700,000 while the Republicans' gained $400,000. (The drop in Senate Democrats' assets is attributed in part to the loss of two especially loaded legislators, John Kerry and the late Frank Lautenberg.)

The wealthiest member of Congress, officially at least, is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with an average net worth of $464 million in 2012. Issa, who chairs the powerful House Oversight Committee, struck it rich in the 1980s with the Viper car alarm, which told would-be thieves to "Please step away from the car," in the congressman's voice.

But there's reason to believe that certain superrich lawmakers are worth even more than they claim, since a new rule allows House members to report "income and liabilities" belonging to their spouses as being worth "$1 million or more" -- an awfully broad category. Hence last year's lucre champ, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), reported an average net worth of "just" $143.1 million in 2012—down from the previous year's estimate of $500.6 million. That's largely because his wife's family fortune has all but disappeared from his disclosure. (Linda McCaul is the daughter of Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays.)