Millionaires fill US Congress halls 

By Jean-Louis Santini 

07/01/04 "AFP"
-- WASHINGTON: The US Congress, the domed bastion of democracy in the capital of capitalism, abounds with deep-pocketed politicians whose fortunes have made the legislative branch of government a millionaire's club. 

In the 435-member House of Representatives, 123 elected officials earned at least one million dollars last year, according to recently released financial records made public each year. 

Next door in the ornate Senate, whose blue-blooded pedigree includes a Kennedy and a Rockefeller, one in three people are millionaires. By comparison, less than one per cent of Americans make seven-figure incomes. 

The American greenback is bipartisan, filling the pockets of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans without discrimination. Liberal stalwart and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, brother of the late John Kennedy, disclosed that he has 45 million dollars in the bank. West Virginia Senator John Rockefeller, also a Democrat, reported to have earned 80 million dollars. 

The Senate is also home to Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, whose wife Teresa Heinz inherited 500 million dollars when her previous husband, senator John Heinz, of the ketchup empire, died in a plane crash in 1991. 

The Senate has always been home to the country's richest elements, and the rising cost of election campaigns has led both parties to encourage self-sufficient candidates to run for public office, boosting the number of wealthy elected officials, analysts say. 

"There tend to be more rich people in the Senate," said Richard Baker, the Senate's historian. "It has always been the case." Representatives and senators tend to hold lucrative jobs - attorneys, doctors and company executives. 

"Members of Congress are recruited not from (an) ordinary cross section of America occupations," said Thomas Mann, a Congress expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. 

"There has been an increasing tendency for parties to seek out individuals who can self-finance at least part of their campaigns, and that has over time led to more wealthy people serving in Congress," Mann said. 

For instance, New Jersey's Jon Corzine, a former chief executive of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, spent more than 60 million dollars, a record, in his successful senate bid in 2000. 

The richest person in the House of Representatives is California Democrat Jane Harman, who reported assets worth more than 160 million dollars. Next in line is Amo Houghton, a New York Republican who reported 150 million dollars. 

In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and heart surgeon, unveiled a fortune worth 45 million dollars. His Senate foe, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, is among the "poorest" officials. 

Daschle disclosed earnings of less than one million dollars in addition to his 171,900-dollar a year Senate salary. Lower ranked senators are paid 154,700 dollars a year. 

In the House, Bill Thomas, the Republican chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has oversight of taxation (or the pockets of average Americans), has one of the most modest financial disclosures. The California Republican reported no assets or investments, just his 157,000-dollar House salary and the value of his home. 

Copyright: AFP 

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