“They’re entitled to a certain level of privacy with their finances,” Dennis said in an interview. “That’s why the system is the way it is. They want a certain standard of disclosure without sacrificing their personal privacy.”
Rebound after recession
The analysis shows that lawmakers who were well-off before the financial crisis of 2008 saw portions of their portfolios level off during the darkest days. But most of these lawmakers managed to maintain their financial footing and emerge far wealthier than they had been earlier in the decade.
Some of the richest members of Congress watched their portfolios soar between 2004 and 2010. Of the 72 lawmakers whose estimated wealth doubled during that time, it appears that 11 increased their portfolios by at least $10 million, based on the midpoint of their reported ranges.
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Tex.) posted an estimated $22 million gain. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) saw an estimated $60 million increase in her reported wealth as the value of her husband’s commercial real estate holdings in San Francisco climbed dramatically during the first decade of the century.
“This is really driven by real estate that he has held, some of it inherited, for a number of years,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “San Francisco is one of the places where the market has skyrocketed in terms of price per square foot and has been fairly insulated in terms of the 2008 financial crisis.”
Another Californian has consistently ranked in the top five of the richest House members: Rep. Darrell Issa (R). He has also been one of the most successful investors on Capitol Hill, with estimated wealth of $448 million in 2010, according to The Post’s analysis.
Issa came to Congress in 2000 with a fortune he made from the sale of an electronics company that specialized in car alarms. One of his alarm systems carried a recording of his voice warning, “Please step away from the car,” if anyone got too close.
Now most of Issa’s investments are in mutual funds, bonds and securities. Issa’s chief of staff said the securities have provided an annual rate of return of between 6 and 7 percent. He also has significant investments in commercial real estate.
“He isn’t speculating on individual stocks. He isn’t a property speculator,” said Dale Neugebauer, the congressman’s chief of staff. “The properties are usually mature real estate with established renters and a predictable rate of return.”
Issa appeared to lose about $90 million in 2008, but his portfolio regained an estimated $197 million within two years of the financial meltdown. The rises were fueled by his commercial real estate ventures in San Diego and successful investments in mutual funds, bonds and other securities.
For Issa, staying patient and holding assets during the downturn paid off.
“Mr. Issa was fortunate enough to be very successful before he was elected to Congress,” Neugebauer said.
Among his real estate ventures, Greene Properties Inc. has gained the most. Issa valued the property holding company at $25 million to $50 million in 2004, a figure that would eventually exceed $50 million.
Issa presents a particular challenge of analysis. In the system Congress set up for itself, the disclosure form’s highest category of value is “more than $50 million,” with no upper limit. As with the other richest legislators who report assets in that category, there is no way for the public to tell how much Issa is worth.
The same is true of Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). The Post analysis using the midpoints of his reported ranges shows that his estimated wealth rose from $6 million in 2004 to $34 million in 2010, boosted by stock in Trinity Petroleum and holdings in Providence Trust.
He reported the value of each of those assets as between $5 million to $25 million in 2010, up from $1 million to $5 million the year before. But such ranges obscure the real value of his assets, which could have risen just enough to switch categories or by many millions of dollars.
A spokesman for Franks did not respond to requests for comment.
Not all members of Congress were immune from the financial meltdown. Some who were enjoying modest gains and a semblance of wealth in the early years of the decade experienced the brunt of the crisis. Twenty lawmakers lost at least 50 percent of their portfolios between 2004 and 2010. Two dozen had their assets wiped out, the analysis found.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) rose to political heights in the middle of the decade — he became House majority leader in 2007 — but his finances failed to follow suit. His reported wealth declined by an estimated 90 percent between 2004 and 2010.