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September 17, 2004

TOO RICH TO BE DEMOCRATS? What the annual report on the 50 Richest In Congress Tells Us

I rang up a senior Democratic strategist of my acquaintance yesterday, and when I called he was fuming over the latest annual report--just out from Roll Call-- on the 50 Richest Members of Congress (I'll give you the link to their analysis, but unless you've forked out the $265 annual sub fee to the thrice-weekly Capitol Hill paper, you won't be able to access it). Growled my friend (who spends his working days trying to figure out how to elect people with a "D" after their name): "These jokers are too rich to be Democrats!"

Here are some of Roll Call's findings:

To make the 50 Richest in Congress list this year, "today's elite must have at least $4.8 million - 50 percent more" than last year.

Congressional Democrats , you may be surprised to learn, tend to be wealthier than the Republicans-- the Democrats "cluster in the upper echelons of this list. This, along with their smaller number of Members, means that Democrats hold a higher average amount of wealth per Member of Congress on the list. Even when Kerry's average-skewing $1 billion is eliminated from the equation, Democrats still average $55.6 million per Member on the list, while the Republicans average $34.8 million per Member on the list."

Of the top six on the Richest list, five are Democrats. The wealthiest person in Congress is, natch, the Democrats' nominee for president. Kerry and his wife "are worth, by conservative estimates, at least $900 million and possibly as much as $3.2 billion." (That's the estimate from the L.A. Times inquest into the John-and-Teresa fortune).

All of the Congressional wealth estimates are, of course, low-ball figures--members of Congress are only required to declare a range of their holdings. And, notes Roll Call, "Kerry's disclosure forms are at best vague. Whenever possible, the Senator uses the category 'Over $1 million' instead of a category that might give a more definitive sense of his wealth, such as '$5 million to $25 million.'" The paper goes on to tell us that, "Further complicating the process of making estimates is the fact that many of Kerry's wife's assets are kept separate from her husband's, and that he refuses to discuss the family's wealth, on the grounds that it is a private family matter. In addition to the many millions Kerry and his wife own in stock, they also have a fair amount of money tied up in real estate. Their properties include a $5 million home in Idaho, a $9 million beachfront property in Nantucket, Mass. and a $4 million estate in Pennsylvania."

The third richest man in Congress is the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Commitee, Jon Corzine of New Jersey. Only Kerry and GOP Rep. Amo Houghton--the Corning heir--are ahead of him. But Houghton is retiring this year, meaning that Corzine is really Number Two. The bearded Corzine "made his millions as chairman of Goldman Sachs. Although he stated as a candidate that he would divest himself of the stock, he still has declared at least $25 million in stock as well as smaller amounts in Goldman Sachs-run funds." (And remember, these are low-ball numbers).

Goldman Sachs, you'll remember, turned a rapacious profit in Third World usury, making out like bandits under Corzine's chairmanship from, among other things, the U.S.-financed Mexican bailout--and Corzine hasn't lost his eye for foreign profits. Roll Call reports he's got investments in Argentina and in Japanese banks. Corzine has been moderately liberal, but he bought himself his Senate seat by self-financing his campaign (with an assist from his check-bundling Wall Street buddies). As one Democratic county chairman in the Garden State told me when I covered the primary Corzine bought, "I don't object to Corzine, I object to the idea of Corzine."

Rounding out the richest six are Democratic Senators Herb Kohl of Wisconsin (#4, with at least $275 million) and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (#5, with a minimum of $200 million), and California Rep. Jane Harmon (#6, conservatively worth $117.1 milllion). And we shouldn't forget the Democrats' leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi--#17 at a paltry $16 million.

But the entry that really sent my Democratic strategist friend ballistic was the one for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Connecticut Democrat. La Rosa--tied for #48 on the Richest list--gets the lion's share of her wealth from her husband--Clintonista pollster and campaign strategist Stan Greenberg. Says Roll Call, "DeLauro's primary asset is a 67-percent stake in Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., a Washington-based firm run by her husband, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Her share in the company nets the Representative $5 million to $25 million. She has a partial stake in two other polling/consulting firms. The first is Greenberg Research, of which she and her husband own 100 percent, and Sun Surveys, in which she owns a 60 percent stake. Neither of these is as lucrative as Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, however."

My bud the political warhorse snorted, "Hell, she first ran for Congress she didn't have a dime--I was one of her biggest contributors. And Stan Greenberg, who worked for me back when he was starting out, used to have holes in his socks!" Noting that Congressional wealth is usually closer to the higher than to the lower estimates on the disclosure forms, my dour Democrat gasped, "That means they're making around $50 million! These people shouldn't be running Democratic campaigns!"

So, if you want to know why the national Democrats seem, in this campaign, to have a tin ear where touching the hearts and minds of the working stiffs is concerned, think about this: the three partners in the Democracy Corps--Greenberg, James Carville, and Kerry's chief message-shaper Bob Shrum--are all multimillionaires. And yet their counsel--proferred in an endless series of free Democracy Corps memos distributed to the party elite well before and during the presidential primaries, whose content (or lack of it) they helped shape--is taken as gospel by Democratic liberals feverish for victory. Well, as the old Texas populist Maury Maverick Jr. used to say, "a liberal is a power junkie without the power."

And with so much of the Democrats' tactical and political leadership rolling in dough, is it any wonder that, instead of full-throated populism to rouse the rank and file and convince the wavering victims of Bush's economy, we've been getting weak-tea supply-side bromides and corporate-coddling "tax incentives" from the Democratic ticket, starting with Kerry and Edwards (Johnny Ray is #14 on the 50 Richest list, with a minimum of $19.1 million), and going right down to the Congressional candidates? If the Democrats think this pablum that they're serving up is going to dramatically spur the turnout needed for a win, they're smokin' the good stuff.

It just might help if the Democrats were a little hungrier and a little poorer.

P.S. Speaking of avaricious Democrats, don't miss the report in yesterday's WashPost on former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger's getting in on the war profiteering act--for a Texas client, Gulfsands Petroleum, looking to milk black gold from the Iraqi oilfields. Remember that, until just a few short months ago, Berger--before he was caught stuffing classified documents down his pants--was advising John Kerry. And, given Kerry's "I'd vote for war again even knowing what I know now" position, we can see what great advice Berger's was...

Want to have a good chuckle while reminding yourself why it's imperative to cast an effective anti-Bush vote this year? If you haven't been following them, check out my old friend and former colleague Paul Slansky's series of hilarious political quizzes in The New Yorker. Slansky's subversive humor is more effective than a thousand Kerry ads. Start with his latest, and then hit the archive of the others, which are listed on the same page...

When I reviewed Dick Morris's book on his years with Clinton for The Nation, I called him "an ambulant carcinoma on the body politic." But he's a clever sod, and his column in today's New York Post comes close to hitting the target in his analysis of some of the Kerry campaign's strategic flaws in the attacks on Bush's period AWOL from the Guard when he writes:

"Kerry's basic problem is that he has no overview of how he's going to win. His consultants and staff confuse a pile of ammunition with a strategy. Their basic idea is to hit Bush with everything and anything they can find. But throwing negatives at a sitting president is like punching a pillow. It feels good and keeps the base happy — but it doesn't help to win the election. By the time a man has served four years as president, negatives that pre-existed his tenure are largely irrelevant.

"People are keenly interested in the character strengths and flaws of a challenger; they want keys to how he'd do in the top job. But once they've had a chance to observe how a person actually functions as chief executive, what he did in his youth matters not at all. And it is particularly true that after a person has been commander-in-chief, we could care less if he disobeyed an order to have a physical when he was a kid."

So sayeth Morris. And even a broken clock can be right twice a day. Kerry must have a programatically positive, bold, and progressive forward strategy to win. Particularly when he has to overcome the yawning chasm of social class between himself and the overwhelming majority of the voters--the reason why poll after poll registers a sizable likeability deficit for JFK. Even Stan Greenberg told Bob Borosage's Campaign for America's Future conference earlier this year that the electorate is yearning for boldness. But that's a quality absent from Kerry's gene pool.

Meanwhile, Kerry's meltdown continues: the new Gallup/USAToday/CNN poll out today shows a Bush lead of a whopping 13 points.

Posted by Direland at 02:04 AM | Permalink


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Wow the poor should know this!

Posted by: Jack Szymborski | Sep 23, 2005 9:56:17 PM

Brian: I hear you, and I don't disagree at all. There are times when "I told you so," can be the sweetest words in the English language. But I doubt it'll have any effect on even casual Democrats, let alone hard-core apologists for the Party machinery.

I just finished reading Thomas Frank's "Kansas" book, which is a standard (though witty & well-written) summation on why Bush's rabid voting base love him so much. For the past few years, I've been seeing an increasingly creepy mirror image of this weird phenomenom on the Democratic side of the equation, which has now become one of the biggest obstacles - if not [i]the[/i] biggest - to the thorough house-cleaning the Democratic Party so badly needs.

It's particularly fucked up because at least the GOP's neandrathals get their egos stroked and their sick fantasies catered to when they vote against their own interests. What do the Dems' long-suffering base get? Nothing, apart from the joyless opportunity to claim they're not at fault and scream blame at third parties for being insufficiently anti-Bush. Talk about pathetic.

Posted by: John Dorrian | Sep 18, 2004 2:04:28 PM

John, I agree on all of your points, including not voting for Nader this time around. (In 2000, it was a chance to vote on principle, for a man I'd actually wanted to see as President. And I don't regret that vote. But this time, well...)

But the main satisfaction for me, personally, would be the telling-off of Democrats of my personal acquaintance. When I get into arguments, I wind up having to spell out in detail the reasons why Nader wasn't _the_ spoiler factor. I have to explain principles _in detail_. And it also takes time to show them how nearly every argument they gave me for voting for Gore could, with equal validity, be directed to support voting for Bush.

But if Kerry loses this time around, I'll have an easier time of it. I can simply reply, "Face it, the Democrats _lost_. Nader didn't pull any votes worth counting. You kept him off the ballot in X number of states. You ran a candidate who suported the war and let a draft-dodging fuckwit humiliate him. Blaming Nader is just trying to avoid facing the fact that your party _failed_, and your failure's brought our country to ruin."

Okay, these are very personal, and extremely petty, reasons. And unless the Democrats do something to _truly_ screw things up, I'll probably vote for Kerry. But still, I can almost _taste_ the satisfaction.

Posted by: Brian Siano | Sep 18, 2004 11:13:34 AM

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