Poorest Member of Congress—And Proud of It

It’s a bit of a dubious distinction, but freshman congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill) says he’s proud to be the poorest member of the new crop of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., talks with supporter in his Cannon Building office after being sworn into the 112th Congress.
Tom Williams | Getty Images
Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., talks with supporter in his Cannon Building office after being sworn into the 112th Congress.

His net worth, as calculated by the Center for Responsive Politics in a new study out Wednesday: negative $317,498.

“It’s sort of a badge of honor,” said Walsh, a Tea Party favorite who lost his own condo to foreclosure in 2009 and who has vowed to save money by sleeping in his office while he’s in Washington. What’s more, Walsh, an ardent foe of President Obama’s health care plan, has vowed not to accept congressional health care, pension and retirement packages.

“I felt so strongly about why I wanted to run even though I may not have been in the best financial situation,” Walsh said of his 2010 campaign for office. “This country’s in bad shape. We need to change things.”

The Center for Responsive Politics study, though, showed that Walsh – the only freshman with a solidly negative net worth—is decidedly in the minority.

In fact, 60 percent of Senate freshmen and more than 40 percent of House freshmen are millionaires, the Center found.

The Center calculates that the median estimated wealth for Senate freshman is $3.96 million. For House freshmen, it’s $570,418.

“Congress and the freshman class that we have in the 112th Congress is about as wealthy as Congress could be,” said David Levinthal, communications director for the Center. “Members of Congress who represent constituents who just elected them are by and large a lot more wealthy than their constituents are.”

Newly elected Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) is the richest of the rich, with an average estimated wealth of $94.87 million. Blumenthal, the Center notes, used several million dollars of his own money to defeat Republican Linda McMahon -- a former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment and herself a multi-millionaire -- in the most expensive congressional campaign of the 2010 election cycle.

The next richest on the list are five new House members:

Diane Lynn Black (R-Tenn.), $49.4 million
Rick Berg (R-N.D.), $39.2 million
Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), $35.8 million
Scott Rigell (R-Va.), $29.9 million
James Renacci (R-Ohio), $28.4 million

Some of the other stars of this new class of congressmen are not doing as well. Conservative darling Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for instance, has a minimum net worth of -$210,989, but a maximum net worth of $135,999. (The Center calculated the personal finances using newly filed congressional disclosure forms, on which members of Congress have to report the value of their assets in ranges, which can give a wide range of possibilities for total net worth of each member of Congress.)

And the center found that former MTV "Real World" star Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) has a net worth that likely dips into the negative realm, with a minimum worth of -$837,984, and a maximum of just $2,995.

The most widely held stocks among the new members were blue chips that are widely held across the country, too: Seventeen new members invested in General Electric, 11 in Bank of America and nine each in AT&T, Cisco Systems, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble.

Meanwhile, things might be looking up for Congressman Walsh. He told a local reporter during the campaign that he earned only about $40,000 per year in the last two years working as a venture capitalist.

But now that he’s elected to Congress, he’ll be making the congressional minimum: $174,000 per year.