With the global economic downturn hitting U.S. stock and real-estate markets especially hard in 2008, some of the nation’s wealthiest senators, like their House counterparts, saw steep declines in their personal fortunes last year.
Well-heeled lawmakers like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), two of the richest politicos on Capitol Hill, saw paper losses worth tens of millions of dollars, although the recent Wall Street rally may have helped them recoup those losses.
And overall, lawmakers remain far more affluent than the average American. Some senior senators, in fact, even reported increases in their net worth, despite the sputtering economy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, received a personal gift from a family member worth between $5 million and $25 million, according to his annual financial disclosure report, which was released on Friday morning.
The gift came from Chao's father, Dr. James S.C. Chao, a wealthy Chinese-born businessman, and it boosted McConnell's personal worth from a minimum of $3 million in 2007 to more than $7 million.
"That was a gift from Secretary Chao's father in April 2008 to the Senator and the Secretary, in memory of her mother, who passed away in August 2007," said Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman. Ruth Mulan Chu was a historian.
Gifts of any value from family members to senators are permitted under Senate ethics rules.
While he invested the bulk of the money, McConnell used a portion of the gift to pay off a $100,000-plus mortgage on a Washington, D.C. home, and it more than offset significant losses suffered by the couple in their stock portfolio, the records show.
Thanks to a rise in Nevada land values, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saw his personal worth rise last year from at least $2.7 million to more than $3.3 million.
Reid also received nearly $136,000 in book royalties from a new autobiography released last year. The Nevada Democrat donated all the funds to charity.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who has been under fire back home for his ownership of an Irish cottage, disclosed that his stake in the home was worth more than $660,000 — more than triple previous estimates.
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Dodd has been hit with accusations that he was underreporting the true value of the Galway property, which had soared during the Irish economic boom of recent years. Dodd's 2007 disclosure report stated that the property was worth between $100,000 and $250,000.
But Dodd, who was also accused of getting a sweetheart loan from Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of the failed mortgage firm Countrywide, saw a sharp downturn in the rest of his investment portfolio.
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), great grandson of the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, reported holding several qualified blind trusts worth a combined $80 million, and the recession did not seem to impact his bottom line much. Rockefeller earned more than $2.1 million in income from the trusts during 2008, plus another $70,000 from other investment.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), a member of the GOP leadership, reported ending 2008 with $332,681 in his RBC Wealth Management Account - up from $301,000 at the beginning of the year.
Yet more typical of the rough financial year for lawmakers were Kerry and Harman. While they remain enormously wealthy by any standard, even those mega-rich lawmakers felt the effects of the U.S. economic collapse.
Kerry, reputed to be the richest member of Congress, saw his minimum net worth fall from $230 million to $190 million over the last year.
Kerry is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, widow of the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), heir to the ketchup fortune. Heinz Kerry has been publicly estimated to be worth at least $1 billion, although the twin crashes in stocks and real estate values hit her overall bottom line. Since congressional disclosure forms only require lawmakers to report assets and liabilities within a very broad range -- and spousal assets are exempt from more specific reporting requirements -- a more precise assessment of Heinz Kerry's true worth is not possible.
Harman, whose husband, Sidney, is the founder of the electronics firm Harman International Industries, saw her minimum net worth slide from $226 million in 2007 to $117 million in 2008, according to an analysis of her disclosure form.
Other wealthy lawmakers, ranging from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), lost as much as 30 percent to 40 percent in net worth, according to their reports.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, the veteran Massachusetts Democrat who is battling brain cancer, saw a steep decline in his personal wealth during 2008, according to his latest disclosures.
Family trust funds that Kennedy had reported as worth at least $45 million in 2007 now have a minimum value of $14 million. Kennedy earned more than $1.5 million in income from those trusts last year.
Kennedy's overall net worth, at a minimum, declined from nearly $48 million to $15.7 million in the last year, the documents show, although their actual worth could be far higher.
In addition, the Massachusetts Democrat was paid nearly $2 million by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group (USA), in advances for his yet untitled autobiography.
And Kennedy received a $5,000 painting from Jamie Wyeth, son of the famous American painter Andrew Wyeth, who died in January. The gift was approved by the Senate Ethics Committee, according to the disclosure report.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) saw her net minimum net worth fall from $52 million in 2007 to just under $37 million the following year. Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, a wealthy financier, owns or invests in dozens of investment funds.
Feinstein reported receiving four gifts last year, including two from a friend - Shirley Nelson in Alamo, Calif. Nelson gave the senator a St. John cashmere lounge suit worth $550 and a glass pumpkin worth $675. Another friend, Jim Johnson, gave Feinstein a $672 bottle of Chardonnay, while a friend from San Francisco, Charlotte Schultz, gave her a ruby and diamond brooch worth $2,250.
And less affluent senators, of course, got hit in the economic slump as well.
For instance, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) lost more than $100,000 in his portfolio held at Smith Barney, including a long-term loss of some $70,905 on common stocks and options. Kyl is still worth more $348,000, minus the value of his personal residence, which does not have to be included in the annual report.