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Fortune 535: Know What Your Congressman is Worth

May 13, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

For eleven years, lawmakers’ personal financial data has been public information. Now, for the first time ever, that information has been compiled and visualized on a website where you can find out just how much your member of Congress is worth. Fortune 535 has been created by the Sunlight Foundation so that people can start asking questions about how their status in Washington has affected their personal wealth over the years.

The site profiles every Senator and Representative in Congress showing how their average net worth has changed since entering Congress (or from 1995, the first year the data is readily available) and how their wealth relates to that of an average American family. It also lists the wealthiest lawmakers, those whose wealth has changed the most over the covered time period, those who began their careers with no net worth and those whose net worth was less than $0 in 2006.

But besides making available all this juicy information, building the site has revealed some major problems with how lawmakers are required to report their personal finance data. The Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller explains:

>One thing we learned while working on this project: measuring lawmakers’ net worth is very difficult (and sometimes impossible) because of the seriously flawed disclosure system used by members of Congress. Because the personal financial disclosure reports lawmakers file asks for assets and liabilities in ranges, we could not determine whether some lawmakers, like Speaker Pelosi, are extremely wealthy or on the verge of declaring bankruptcy (or somewhere in between). That’s why we support more precise reporting requirements as well as full online disclosure and preservation of lawmakers’ personal financial disclosure reports.

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