The Top 10 Wealthiest Members of Congress

by Ann Dermody // Apr 03, 2018 Uncategorized

Each year since 1990, our CQ colleagues at Roll Call have put together an extensive “Wealth of Congress” report. The study means compiling more than 28,000 rows of data from the most recent annual financial disclosure filings – snapshots of the assets and liabilities of every House member and senator as they started their service in the 115th Congress.

Today, on Connectivity, we’re bringing you a taster. The top 10 wealthiest members of Congress. To read the report in it’s entirety, including summaries of how the richest 50 earned their wealth, click here.  

1. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California)

The richest member of Congress through this decade, Issa says he’s departing the House when his ninth term ends this fall. The backstory behind his fortune is extraordinary. After being charged, but never convicted, as a young man in two car theft cases, he invested $7,000 and loans from his family in a struggling Cleveland consumer electronics business in the early 1980s. Within a few years, he’d transformed his holdings into DEI, moved to California to take advantage of a surge in auto thefts and unveiled the enormously popular Viper car alarm. (His own sonorous baritone offers the system’s signature warnings: “Protected by Viper. Stand back” and “Please step away from the car.”) Issa sold the business in 2000, the same year he invested $2 million of his money to win an open seat north of San Diego. His highest-value assets now are five brokerage accounts each worth at least $50 million.

2. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana)

Winner of a special election in May to succeed Ryan Zinke, who left to be Interior secretary, Gianforte’s fortunes in the world of high technology and data analytics fueled his victory and made him the richest freshman in the 115th Congress. In 1986, he founded Brightwork Development, a software company, which he and his partners sold for $10 million to McAfee Associates eight years later. He moved to Montana and in 1997 he founded RightNow Technologies, a cloud-based customer service software business, which he sold to Oracle Corp. for $1.5 billion in 2012. His largest assets are portions of a testamentary trust valued at a minimum of $25 million each.

3. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado)

The richest Democrat on the Hill is giving up his Boulder-centered House seat after five terms in hopes of being elected governor. As a college student, Polis founded American Information Systems, a web-hosting company. He went on to co-found BlueMountain.com, an electronic greeting card company, and ProFlowers.com and open a chain of movie theaters catering to Spanish-speaking audiences. Selling those companies allowed him to self-fund his political ambitions and to co-found Techstars, a startup accelerator with a portfolio of companies that have collectively raised more than $3.3 billion. Polis also holds a sizable collection of property assets through real estate funds. He lists two holding companies and a blind trust valued at over $25 million each.

4. Rep. Dave Trott (R-Michigan)

Having financed his path to the House by becoming a titan in the home foreclosure business, Trott is giving up his suburban Detroit seat after only two terms. Starting in the late 1980s, he transformed his parent’s small law office, Trott & Trott, into a vertically integrated real estate behemoth with 1,800 employees. It became one of the biggest in the nation representing banks and other residential lenders with portfolios of bad mortgages — a so-called foreclosure mill that, at the height of the last decade’s housing crisis, evicted almost 80,000 a year in Michigan alone. Trott and his wife, Kathleen, also have big holdings in Detroit Legal News, which publishes most of Michigan’s required legal notices before foreclosures, and Attorneys Title Agency, which specializes in pre-foreclosure deed searches.

5. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)

The House Homeland Security chairman’s financial standing is entirely because of the fortunes inherited by his wife and children. Linda McCaul is the daughter of Lowry Mays, the founder of the San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications and its chairman until a stroke sidelined him in 2005. Now the largest owner of radio stations in the country, it has become iHeartCommunications since the Mays family sold much of its stake in a leveraged buyout a decade ago. The McCaul family has over three dozen family investments valued at more than $1 million.

6. Rep. John Delaney (D-Maryland)

After financing his upset election in a newly drawn district in the D.C. suburbs in 2012, Delaney is leaving Congress to focus on a long-shot 2020 presidential bid. The son of an electrician, he teamed up with a friend after graduating from Georgetown to buy a small medical services company. They soon sold it to start HealthCare Financial Partners, a specialized lender to smaller health care businesses. When it went public, Delaney was the youngest CEO in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. Its 1999 sale for more than $500 million allowed him to start CapitalSource, which lends money to small and midsize businesses and has since been sold to PacWest Bancorp. Delaney is the only member to report holding an American Express Centurion Card, also known as the Amex Black Card.

7. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia)

Currently the richest senator, Warner made a killing as a venture capitalist before he turned 40, about when he began spending generously to launch a rapid rise in Virginia politics. After a stint out of law school as a Democratic Party fundraiser, he started energy and real estate businesses but really hit it big in telecommunications. He convinced some investors to help him buy cellular telephone licenses the government was selling for a relative song in the early 1980s and then staked a big and early claim in Nextel, which blossomed into one of the biggest wireless service providers and was eventually swallowed by Sprint Corp. He also founded Columbia Capital, which currently holds a number of internet, security and mobile companies in its portfolio. Much of Warner’s money is held in two blind trusts, with a diverse portfolio of mutual fund holdings and individual stocks mainly held by his wife and children.

8. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Florida)

Now in his second decade representing the central Gulf Coast, Buchanan is the richest among a handful of the House’s very rich car dealers, with franchises across the Southeast. But he started in business in Michigan in 1976 as the founder of American Speedy Printing, which grew through franchising to more than 730 stores in 44 states before eventual bankruptcy. He moved to Florida and bought his first dealership, selling Hondas and Acuras, in 1992. His chain expanded to two dozen locations, some of which have been sold. Others were the subject of investigations into his first campaign’s finances. Buchanan has also been involved in the reinsurance, charter jet and yacht leasing businesses. His investments in real estate have produced liabilities of at least $28 million.

9. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut)

Blumenthal’s vast wealth is more tied to real estate than any other lawmaker’s. And it’s entirely because since 1982 he’s been married to the former Cynthia Malkin, the daughter of Manhattan commercial real estate magnate Peter Malkin. The senator’s marriage also created a subplot underneath the particularly intense mutual antagonism between Blumenthal and President Donald Trump, who made his own fortune in prestige New York real estate, oftentimes in competition with the Malkin family. (They most famously feuded over their convoluted shared ownership of the Empire State Building.) Money in Blumenthal’s own name or in joint accounts is a mix of investments and savings. But disclosure requirements for spousal assets require much less specificity, so the Blumenthals’ true net worth is difficult to determine.

10. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California)
The oldest current senator has some serious assets of her own, first among them a stake of at least $25 million in Carlton Hotel Properties, which runs one of the most famous hotels in her hometown of San Francisco. But Feinstein makes the top 10 list only because her third husband is Richard C. Blum, the chairman and president of Blum Capital, a highly successful equity investment management firm. His largest single stock holding is a stake of between $1 million and $5 million in Kite Pharma, a T cell therapy pharmaceutical company recently acquired by Silicon Valley pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences. The couple, married since 1980, owns a $1 million-plus condominium on Kauai.
This is part of the annual report ranking the net worth of the 115th Congress by Paul V. Fontelo and David Hawkings that appeared in Roll Call earlier this month. For the full report of ALL U.S. Senators and Representatives wealth, click here.