Majority of Ag Committee members in the millionaires’ club

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Most members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are millionaires, according to personal financial disclosure data compiled by the non-profit research group Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Fifty percent of all lawmakers are millionaires, the CRP says - but members of the farm panels have got that beat. Some 53 percent of the Senate Agriculture Committee had a median net worth of over $1 million in 2012, as did 64 percent of their House counterparts.  In all, 57 percent of agriculture lawmakers are millionaires, according to CRP data, which included immediate family members' holdings. (Click here for a full listing.)

The Center says that 2012 marked the first year a majority of congressional members are millionaires. In 2011, 48 percent of lawmakers had a median net worth of $1 million.

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In a country where, according to a 2012 New York University study, the average American was worth $57,000 in 2010, some suggest a wealth gap may help explain why lawmakers have trouble passing meaningful legislation (like the farm bill): Perhaps politicians have forgotten what it's like to be the Average Joe?

"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,” explained Sheila Krumholz, executive director at CRP.

On the Senate Agriculture Committee, Republicans are the richest, with average wealth of $7.68 million and all but three of 10 members qualifying as millionaires. John Hoeven of North Dakota is the wealthiest. His roughly $37.1 million is mostly in the form of stock. Before entering politics (the senator was governor of North Dakota from 2000 to 2010), Hoeven was president and CEO of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

Democrats on the Senate Ag committee fare less well, with just three of 10 lawmakers as millionaires. The head of the panel, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, is actually the second poorest senator in the country, with her net worth an average of only about $32,500, according to CRP. The chairwoman has been in politics since her election to a county board of commissioners in 1979, just four years after earning a master's degree in social work.

Agriculture's richest lawmakers can be found in the House of Representatives.

Farm panel Democrats, 65 percent of whom are millionaires, count among their number the 12th wealthiest representative - Suzan DelBene of Washington. The freshman congresswoman is worth about $54.3 million. Prior to entering politics, DelBene was an executive at Microsoft, founded drugstore.com and served as the CEO of data management firm Nimble Technology through its acquisition by software company Acutate Corporation in 2003. DelBene's husband also brought down a nice paycheck as president of the Microsoft Office division. He stepped down in December to help the Obama Administration manage problem-ridden Healthcare.gov.

Freshman Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is both the richest lawmaker on either House or Senate Agriculture Committees and the 10th wealthiest member of the House. His net worth, approximately $59.1 million, stems from a number of savvy business decisions: Collins has snapped up over twenty bankrupt or struggling companies since the 1990's, consolidating them into six successful businesses that he still owns.

About 63 percent of House Agriculture Committee Republicans are millionaires, including Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.

The richest member of Congess? That's Republican Darrell Issa of California, who runs the House Oversight Committee, with an estimated net worth of $464.1 million.

Freshman House member David Valadao, another California Republican, is the poorest member of  Congress. According to personal finance records, Valadao's liabilities are various lines of credit to support his Hanford-area dairy operation.

(Below is a chart showing the five wealthiest and poorest members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Because members are required to report wealth ranges rather than exact values, Agri-Pulse used the upper and lower limits provided by the Center for Responsive Politics to calculate the average net worth of each lawmaker.)

Name                                                        Lower Limit    Upper Limit    Average

RICHEST                              

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y.                   $22,263,037    $95,946,000    $59,104,519

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.           $23,908,063    $84,595,000    $54,251,532

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.                   $10,209,077    $64,021,999    $37,115,538

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.                  $9,230,051    $36,452,001    $22,841,026

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa                    $12,103,118     $23,975,003    $18,039,061

POOREST                             

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.                          ($216,991)       $409,997         $96,503

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.                      $(478,991)       $640,999         $81,004

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.             $15,001           $50,000           $32,501

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark.                  $(230,000)       $(120,002)       $(175,001)

Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, R-Tenn.  $(1,149,999)    $204,995         $(472,502)

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