How wealthy is Minnesota’s congressional delegation?


Today is the deadline for members of Congress to file their 2008 personal financial disclosure forms. The documents aren’t required to be posted electronically at present so it will be some time before they’re readily available to the public. But a new web site created by the Sunlight Foundation provides some interesting insight into the personal wealth of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation.

The Fortune 535 site highlights the incomes of federal legislators and tracks how their wealth has changed since arriving in Congress. Unfortunately these numbers are merely ballpark estimates. Because legislators are only required to disclose financial ranges (e.g. $15,000 to $50,000) for their assets and liabilities, it’s impossible to come up with precise measurements of wealth.

But these calculations still produce some eye-popping figures. Most legislators, unsurprisingly, are much better off financially than when they first arrived in Washington. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has seen his personal wealth balloon by $200 million in the eight years that he’s served in the House–more than any other member of Congress.

The most glaring figure from the Minnesota delegation is the net worth (or lack thereof) of Rep. Tim Walz for 2006: -$364,000. Among Walz’s liabilities: a home mortgage valued at between $250,000 and $500,000, a home equity loan estimated at $50,000 to $100,000, and three different credit card debts running between $10,000 and $50,000.

Meredith Salsbery, Walz’s director of communications, attributes his financial situation to the freshman legislator’s background as a modestly-paid teacher, along with a leave of absence to run his 2006 campaign. “They just incurred some additional debt while campaigning to serve the people of the first district,” she says. “It’s pretty understandable when you go on unpaid leave.”

Also among the Congressional paupers: Rep. Keith Ellison, with an estimated net worth of under $19,000. Only 35 of his legislative colleagues reported less wealth in 2006.

Perhaps Walz and Ellison should seek out some financial advice from fellow Democrat (and 33-year-legislative veteran) James Oberstar. In 2006 he was the richest member of the Minnesota delegation, according to the Sunlight Foundation, with a net worth of roughly $7 million. In 1978, the first year that legislators were required to release personal financial data, the only asset that Oberstar reported was a certificate of deposit valued at between $5,000 and $15,000. Today his stock holdings are in the millions.

Rep. Jim Ramstad will be leaving Congress with few worries about his financial future. The Republican legislator, who is stepping down after nine terms, reported roughly $6.5 million in assets at the end of 2006. That’s up from roughly $500,000 in assets in 1995.

The next wealthiest members of the Minnesota delegation: Michele Bachmann, Amy Klobuchar, Norm Coleman, John Kline, Betty McCollum, and Collin Peterson.