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Harris Sherline: In Politics, Should ‘Overprivileged’ Equal Not Qualified?

Sure, Mitt Romney is wealthy, but so are half of our representatives in Congress

The latest rap against Mitt Romney is that he comes from “an overprivileged background,” which somehow means that he is not qualified to be president of the United States.

I would like to know just why that should disqualify anyone from public service. Think about the implications of the idea that a person who comes from a family that is wealthy is automatically unqualified to hold the highest office in the land.

If that were the case, why weren’t John F. Kennedy and his younger brother, Ted, both automatically disqualified?

Sen. John Kerry didn’t have wealthy parents, but he married into money when he married Heinz heiress Teresa Heinz, who had a fortune that has been estimated at around $300 million.

In fact, our political leaders are among the privileged in our society. It’s been pretty well documented that Congress and many of the state legislatures are among the best places to go to work to become a millionaire. On the surface, it seems like a disconnect between the capitalistic system in America, where self-reliance and risk-taking are paramount over the safety and security of a government job.

However, the evidence clearly demonstrates otherwise.

The headline of a Nov. 6, 2009, article by Erika Lovley notes, “47% of Congress Members Millionaires — a Status Shared by Only 1% of Americans.”

The Center for Responsive Politics has crunched the numbers and released the results on its Open Secrets blog: “About 47 percent of Congress, or 249 current members are millionaires. ... In 2010, the estimated median net worth of a current U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.56 million, according to the center’s research.

“Despite the global economic meltdown in 2008 and the sluggish recovery that followed, that’s up about 7.6 percent from an estimated median net worth of $2.38 million in 2009 ... and up 13 percent from a median net worth of $2.27 million in 2008. ... Fully 36 Senate Democrats and 30 Senate Republicans reported an average net worth in excess of $1 million in 2010. The same was true for 110 House Republicans and 73 House Democrats.”

“The vast majority of members of Congress are quite comfortable, financially, while many of their own constituents suffer from economic hardships,” said Sheila Krumholz at the Center for Responsive Politics. “Few Americans enjoy the same financial cushions maintained by most members of Congress — or the same access to market-altering information that could yield personal, financial gains.”

The Center for Responsive Politics issued a report that describes the wealth of members of Congress:

“Among the highlights: Two-hundred-and-thirty-seven members of Congress are millionaires. That’s 44 percent of the body — compared to about 1 percent of Americans overall.”

“CRP says California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa is the richest lawmaker on Capitol Hill, with a net worth estimated at about $251 million. Next in line: Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), worth about $244.7 million; Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), worth about $214.5 million; Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), worth about $209.7 million; and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), worth about $208.8 million. ... At least seven lawmakers have net worths greater than $100 million, according to the center’s 2008 figures.”

“Some lawmakers have profited from investments in companies that have received federal bailouts; dozens of lawmakers are invested in Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s net worth has been estimated at $21 million. President Barack Obama is the sixth wealthiest, worth about an estimated $4 million.

One caveat on those numbers: Federal financial disclosure laws don’t require members to list the value of their personal residences. That information could alter the net worth picture for many lawmakers.

“A number of lawmakers are estimated to have suffered double-digit percentage losses in their net worth from 2007 to 2008,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics report. “The biggest losers include Kerry, who lost a whopping $127.4 million; Warner lost about $28.1 million; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) lost about $11.8 million; and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lost about $10.1 million.”

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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