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A link on the Drudge Report today claimed this:

Report

Many have had the sneaking suspicion that our elected “leaders” in Congress are not going to Washington D.C. to represent us but for their own personal gain. This video may just validate that assessment!

Using the net worth data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics we found a disturbing trend.

Is this a case of selecting data to make it look bad? Is there something else afoot? Or is congress really going to Washington and getting rich?

My hunch is maybe all 3 are true.

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    What this data-set omits is something SIGNIFICANTLY more important - post-congress net worth. Because what those people accumulate is not merely monetary rewards, but access/networking/leverage/opportunity for post-elected work (not to mention illegal but obviously occuring delayed quid-pro-quo). E.g. a guy may honestly pull his congressional salary for 8 years, and honestly increase his net worth by an amount expected for someone pulling the same salary in any industry. But 5 years AFTER leaving his seat, he's pulling high-6/low-7 figure salary as lobbyist – user5341 Jul 28 '11 at 0:13
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Congressional net worth is not up nearly 3700%. It is not claimed in the video you link to and it is not claimed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Indeed this chart from the CPR suggests that average net wealth in the Senate has been fairly stable and in the House has risen slightly.

The video suggests (around 1:15) 223 out of 535 members of Congress saw their net wealth increase, suggesting more than half did not.

So where does the 3700% number come from? It seems to be this list where one particular congressman saw his net worth increase from $47,503 to $1,790,508. That is partly caused by his low starting point but he still has less than the average by some way. Some others saw their net worth go from positive to negative, but that is not so outrageous.

So the answer is that the video and your headline question are being selective. Some members of Congress get richer, some get poorer. Concentrate on the former and you get something to shout about.

A different issue is that on average members of Congress are much richer than the rest of the population. For some, this might raise questions about how representative they are; for other that is irrelevant in a democracy where voters can choose.

  • (1) while your answer might be technically accurate, there's a very specific subset that might represent a highly illuminating trend - those that started with lowe-ish net worth. E.g. 0k-100k bracket. If THOSE members, on average, increased the net worth substantially, it is worth noting. You don't really care if say someone with 3Mil NW remained at 3.1Mil; or went broke as that doesn't affect the perceived problem (people getting rich from congressional "service") either way. – user5341 Jul 28 '11 at 0:07
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    (2) Also, see my comment to the OP. You (the viewer of the data) would be missing the big picture if you don't include intangible assets of the job which directly and highly impactfully affect POST-elected-career net worth. – user5341 Jul 28 '11 at 0:14
  • This reminds me of an observation I made: when my daughter was born, she was 1/25th my age and now she is 1/2 my age. Therefore, time travel exists. – horatio Aug 26 '11 at 17:54

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