How important will money be to 2014 House races? Challengers disclose assets

News-DemocratJanuary 26, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS

Former Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis tops metro-east congressional candidates with a reported net household worth of between $3 million and nearly $10 million, with half that wealth represented by her husband's ownership of McGurk's Irish Pub, a South St. Louis landmark.

Callis is running in the March 18 Democratic primary for the 13th U.S. House District, part of which runs through Madison County.

If elected to Congress in November, Callis would fit in among the chamber's other lawmakers, as more than half of whom are millionaires, according to recent analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group.

Callis and other challengers were required to disclose their household assets, including real estate and stock investments, as well as income for last year because federal law requires them to file a document called a Form B soon after their campaign has raised or spent at least $5,000. Callis met that threshold early last year.

The incumbent candidates, including U.S. Reps. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville; Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville; and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, aren't required to file their financial disclosure forms until May.

Also filing Form Bs since late last year were the following U.S. House challengers:

* Champaign physics professor George Gollin, who faces Callis in the 13th House Democratic primary race. Gollin reported assets of between nearly $2.3 million and $4 million, and earnings by August 2013 of $88,208 in salary from his job as a University of Illinois professor. The previous year he reported income of nearly $130,000 from his university job.

* Urbana lawyer Erika Harold, who's facing incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis in the 13th House GOP primary. Harold reported assets of between $216,000 and $565,000, principally in the form of retirement investments, as well as income by June 2013 of about $54,000, principally from her work with a Champaign law firm. Harold's salary in 2012 was nearly $144,000, according to her Form B.

* State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, the lone candidate for the 12th District's GOP nomination. Bost reported a net worth of between $68,000 and $200,000. Bost reported earning nearly $41,000 as a state lawmaker by the time he had filed his Form B in June 30, 2013. The previous year he earned $68,182, according to his Form B.

Angela Michael, the only Democrat running in the 15th House District primary, has not filed a Form B because she has not met the $5,000 fundraising threshold.

Callis said, via email, that she did not believe her personal wealth will play a role in upcoming primary and general elections.

"There is a clear difference between me and my opponents," Callis wrote, "and I think voters will decide the outcome of this election by looking at the candidates and choosing who will stand up for them in Washington."

For his part, though, Gollin decried the role of money in America's political system.

"Money has so deformed our politics so that we are now living with what has been called a one-dollar, one-vote system," Gollin wrote in an email.

Candidates should run for office "because of their passions and skills, and to be selected by voters because of their platform and powerful ideas," Gollin said. "We do not want candidates to be chosen based solely on personal wealth. But that is how it is often done at the present time."

Davis, who won the 13th House seat in 2012, said Callis' personal wealth is an issue over which he has no control.

"And we're going to run our campaign based on our record of success," said Davis. "I think we got a record, especially on some of the major issues we've played a role in."

Davis, while running as a challenger in 2012, reported assets, including stock holdings and retirement funds, ranging in value between $105,018 and $404,000, according to his Form B report filed in 2012.

Harold said she believes the modern day political process puts too much emphasis on money and not enough emphasis on a candidate's policy positions.

"I think people want the ability to feel that somebody who's representing them has the life experience that reflects their life experience well," Harold said.

Over in the 12th District race, Bost said his relatively modest salary and assets would serve him well if elected to the U.S. House.

"My income is a lot closer to the average income of people of my district," Bost said. "I would never put a man or woman down because they have money. But I would be concerned if it's a situation where they have money and they are out of the touch with the people they represent."

Enyart, who was first elected to the U.S. House from the 12th District in 2012, listed personal financial assets of between slightly more than $1 million and nearly $2.54 million in that year.

Enyart, a Belleville lawyer and former commander of the Illinois National Guard, listed personal income of between $145,536 and $275,623 for 2012, according to his Form B.

In the 15th House District, longtime incumbent Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, reported assets ranging in value between $660,000 and nearly $1.9 million, principally in the form of homes he and his wife own in Collinsville and Washington, D.C., according to his personal disclosure form filed in May 2013.

Affluence and politics

Personal wealth is by no means a guarantee of success for a political candidate, but it does help guide party leaders seeking candidates to recruit, according to Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

"It's certainly true that party leaders when they see people who want to run for office who have their own resources, that's kind of a plus," Novak said. "It means they may not have to fundraise quite so much and a donor's money can go to somebody who needs it more."

As the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama grapple with the nation's widening disparities in wealth, members of both the U.S. House and Senate can serve as Exhibits A and B, respectively, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Congress today, for the first time in its history, is "a millionaires club," with Democrats in Congress reporting a median net worth of $1.04 million, while congressional Republicans had a median net worth of about $1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In both cases, the figures rose from last year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, respectively, according to the center.

This compares to median household net worth for all Americans of about $77,000.

The median is the dollar amount where half of all households are above it, and half of all households are below it. The median household income for all Americans is $50,500, according to Social Security tax records for 2013.

The richest member of the U.S. House is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Issa, who struck it rich with a car alarm company he founded, had an average net worth of $464 million in 2012.

The least wealthy member of Congress in 2012 was Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif. Valadao reported an average net worth of negative $12.1 million in 2012 because of loans on his family dairy farm.

The lesson to draw from the fact that so many Washington, D.C., lawmakers are millionaires?

That wealth is necessary "to run financially viable campaigns," according to a statement from Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

And even though Congress is suffering from some of the lowest approval ratings in its history, Krumholz said "there's been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington."

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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