Their politics may differ. But both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have laid claim to representing the interests of the middle class, whose economic frustrations helped spur the groups’ establishment and growth.
So which side’s congressional lawmakers come closest to embodying that wide swath of the U.S. population? Or, in Occupy terms, which side is closer to the 99 percent?
Neither the members of the House Tea Party Caucus nor those of the House Progressive Caucus — whose views most closely align with the Occupy Wall Street movement — are remotely middle class, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics of congressional personal financial disclosure forms covering 2010, the most recently available data.
The members of the House Tea Party Caucus are especially wealthy, the Center’s research shows.
The median average net worth of a member of the House Tea Party Caucus was $1.8 million in 2010. (Financial disclosure forms require lawmakers to value their assets and liabilities only in ranges, so it’s impossible to know exactly how wealthy a particular elected official is. However, it’s possible to calculate an average net worth for each member of Congress.)
That’s significantly higher than the comparable number for the median House member: $755,000. It’s also more than 130 percent above the $774,280 average net worth of the median, non-Tea Party Caucus House Republican.
Furthermore, the caucus, a group of 60 House members founded by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), includes 33 millionaires and six members worth more than $20 million, according to the Center’s research. That means a member of the group is more likely to be a millionaire than the average Republican who isn’t in the caucus.
Christopher Arterton, a professor of political management at George Washington University, called the Republican lawmakers’ personal wealth unsurprising.
“Because they have amassed personal wealth, or inherited it, they are much more likely to be attuned to business or investment as an issue and less friendly towards regulations,” Arterton told OpenSecrets Blog.
“Their own background leads them to lean ideologically in the direction of business interests and free market.”
The median House Republican, generally speaking, was worth significantly more than the median House Democrat last year: $834,250 versus $635,000.
“The Republican Party is known to be a party that has lots of connections to big business, business interests and the so-called job creators so these people do tend to be more wealthy,” Arterton noted. “So it’s not surprising to me that the Republican members are wealthier than Democratic ones.”
The wealth among the House Tea Party Caucus’s membership ranges from Rep. Stephen Fincher‘s (R-Tenn.) estimated average net worth of negative $3.3 million to the $49.3 million of the richest member of the group, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas). The congressional offices of several members of both caucuses were contacted by OpenSecrets Blog, but all declined to comment for this story.
Similarly, on the other side of the aisle, members of the House Progressive Caucus may have less first-hand familiarity than some of their fellow lawmakers with the economic pinch being felt by many in the nation. Those in the caucus are less wealthy than the average House member, according to the data for last year — but actually slightly wealthier than the average Democrat.
The Center’s research found that the median average net worth of a member of the Progressive Caucus was about $639,500 in 2010. That’s 3.4 percent more than the average net worth of $618,500 of the median House Democrat who is not part of the Progressive Caucus.
The least wealthy member of the House Progressive Caucus is Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), whose estimated average net worth puts her $383,500 in debt. At the other end of the spectrum is Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), whose estimated average net worth clocks in at $143.2 million. In all, 24 of the 73 voting members of the caucus are millionaires.
The small number of Senate-side members of both these caucuses may actually be closer, financially speaking, to the 99 percent.
The Senate’s three Tea Party Caucus members are relatively poor compared to their peers. Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) were, on average, each worth less than $774,000. That’s well below the $2.6 million average for the Senate, and also well below the $3.2 million average for non-Tea Party Caucus GOP senators.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the only senator in the Progressive Caucus, had an average net worth of $429,000 in 2010. That’s about one-sixth the average net worth of the median member of the Senate Democratic caucus, which stands at $2.7 million.
Notably, Sanders, DeMint, Paul and Lee are all among the 25 poorest senators, according to the Center’s research.
Center for Responsive Politics senior researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.