A Peek Inside the Congressional Millionaire’s Club

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Personal Gain Index shines a light on how representatives benefit during their tenure

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The Personal Gain Index shows through data what many Americans already know: members of Congress are playing by a different set of rules

While the average American continues to struggle financially, members of Congress are getting richer. How much richer? A new study by Ballotpedia and the Government Accountability Institute reveals that a member of Congress can expect his or her net worth to increase in eight years by an average of 72.6 percent.

The Personal Gain Index (PGI) is a four-part study that examines information about the net worth, fundraising, lobbying, and investment activities of each member of Congress. Part one of the PGI analyzes how the net worth of each member of Congress has increased throughout his or her tenure in office. This information enables a comparison of the gains in net worth experienced by congressional incumbents with what happened to the net worth of the people they represent.

According to Leslie Graves, publisher of Ballotpedia, “In the midst of tough financial times for average Americans, elected representatives in D.C. are experiencing boom times. There’s discord there. The Personal Gain Index shows through data what many Americans already know: members of Congress are playing by a different set of rules.”

In the period from 2004 to 2012, the median American citizen saw his or her adjusted household net worth decrease by an annual rate of -0.94 percent, while members of Congress experienced a median adjusted annual increase of 1.55 percent per year. And while the average member of Congress saw his or her adjusted net worth increase by an average of 15.4 percent per year, the average American saw smaller gains with an annual increase of 3.7 percent.

The financial information used for the PGI shows that for the first time in history, the majority of America's elected officials in Washington, D.C. are millionaires. From 2004 to 2012, the U.S. Congress saw a total increase of $316.4 million in assets held by all members. Congressional millionaires had an average yearly net worth percentage increase of 23.9 percent.

Not all members of Congress increased their net worth, but the average yearly percentage increase for those who did was 43.6 percent. The average increase in net worth for the top 20 wealth increasers was 422 percent a year, while the top 100 net worth increasers saw annual gains of 114 percent. Of the top 100 net worth increasers, 56 are Republicans, 43 are Democrats, and one is an Independent.

Winning election to Congress can prove immediately lucrative, with freshman members of the 113th Congress seeing an average net worth increase of 8.3% after just one year in office. Meanwhile, freshman members of the 112th Congress saw their net worth increase by an average of 50 percent over three years.

Congress also appears to be a good place to dig out of a personal financial hole. The PGI shows that 49 members moved from a negative net worth to a positive net worth while in Congress, with an average increase of $3.4 million per member.

The remaining three parts of the Personal Gain Index are forthcoming.

About Ballotpedia

Ballotpedia is a project of the Lucy Burns Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The mission of the Lucy Burns Institute is to empower people to engage in democracy by delivering exceptionally high quality information that is easy to access. Toward that end, LBI publishes Ballotpedia, Judgepedia, and Policypedia, online resources that equip voter with the facts about local, state, and federal politics and policy. Since the organization’s founding in December 2006, LBI’s online articles have received nearly 400 million page views.

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