Come January, California will lose the distinction of being home to the richest man in Congress. More than a third of the lawmakers in the state’s congressional delegation are millionaires, and Rep. Darrell Issa’s wealth dwarfs them all.
Issa, a Vista Republican who won’t run for reelection this fall, claimed a minimum net worth of at least $283.3 million on his most recent federal financial disclosure form.
There are 20 millionaires in Congress from California, an analysis of the data finds. Their fortunes come from real estate holdings, tech stocks, investment portfolios and their spouses. Lawmakers are not required to disclose property they own unless it is earning income, and they also do not need to list their $174,000 annual salaries, putting each and every one of them above the average Californian.
While the figures can give constituents and voters a glimpse of how the people who represent them in Washington live, they are imprecise, thanks in part to disclosure rules that allow the members of Congress to report assets using broad ranges. The ranges for reporting assets and liabilities start at between $1 and $1,000 and top out at $50 million and greater. So that means Issa could be worth $283.3 million, or he could be worth a lot more.
For the purposes of this ranking, a lawmaker’s net worth was calculated by subtracting the minimum liabilities disclosed from the minimum assets. If someone reported investments worth at least $10 million and a mortgage of at least $1 million, the person would have a minimum net worth of $9 million.
The total net worth of California’s delegation was at least $439 million in 2016, a 14% drop from the year before. Congress, overall, got richer.
“The cumulative net worth of senators and House members jumped by one-fifth ... outperforming the typical American’s improved fortunes as well as the solid performance of investment markets during that time,” writes David Hawkings, a senior editor at the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, which compiled the annual data for The Times.
The median minimum net worth of California’s members of Congress is roughly $497,000. That’s another misleading figure, because they are not required to disclose the worth of their homes, often the largest asset for most Americans.
It’s also difficult to compare lawmakers with their constituents, since the census and other data sources evaluate income, not assets and liabilities.
A glimpse at personal finances
In some cases, the disclosures offer a sense of the politicians’ personal finances, including mortgages, student loans and pension plans.
Two California Republicans seem to have paid off mortgages to jump up on the ranking.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield was in negative territory in 2015, but came out of the red in 2016 because he no longer listed a $100,000 mortgage. He is now the 38th-richest member of the delegation.
Rep. Mimi Walters of Irvine saw her minimum net worth increase because she did not list a $1 million mortgage from Nationstar.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) dropped 10 places on the ranking because he added new mortgages totaling at least $350,000.
Freshmen add to wealth of Congress
The 2016 elections swept in several new members, adding at least $30 million to the minimum net worth of the entire 55-person delegation. That’s dramatically more than the $3 million net worth of the California lawmakers who left Congress.
Two freshmen made the millionaires list: Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).
Khanna, with a minimum net worth of $27 million, debuted on the list as the fourth-richest member of Congress in California. His wife, Ritu Khanna, holds more than 99 percent of the congressman’s total reported assets. Her father, Monte Ahuja, is founder and CEO of Transtar Industries Inc., a distributor of transmissions. The family also owns Mura Holdings, an investment firm.
There are 15 lawmakers whose net worth shows negative territory, thanks mostly to mortgages and lines of credit.
Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, a dairy farmer, has long been the “poorest” member of Congress. His Valadao and Triple V Dairies are listed as assets worth at least $2 million, but he also listed at least $17 million in credit lines for farmland and farming equipment.
Ten members of the delegation reported owing student loans in 2016 for a total of $375,000. Rep. Raul Ruiz, a former emergency room doctor, is responsible for the lion’s share of that debt. The Democrat from Palm Desert listed a student loan liability of between $100,001 and $250,000.
The richest in California
Issa, who amassed his fortune as founder of a car alarm giant, saw his personal wealth decline at least $38.7 million in 2016. He opened a $25 million credit line from UBS, increasing his total liabilities. He also no longer listed three investment funds worth at least $5 million.
Among Issa’s assets is Ocean Collection, a real estate portfolio of over 10 different commercial properties in Carlsbad, which earned him between $5 million and $25 million in rental income.
The Democrat, who is facing her most significant challenge yet for reelection this fall, increased her minimum net worth by at least $13 million, disclosing $61.5 million in assets for 2016. Carlton Hotel Properties LP, which is jointly owned by Feinstein and her husband Richard Blum, in 2016 saw a $20 million increase in value, five times more than what she reported the year before.
Her only reported liability is a mortgage of at least $1 million. Blum reported a loan and a line of credit of at least $2 million.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) remains high on the list at No. 5, despite an $11 million decrease in assets. Her husband, Paul Pelosi, previously disclosed an asset worth at least $10 million in the Sacramento Mountain Lions team of the now-defunct United Football League. The team was not listed on Pelosi’s 2016 forms. Paul Pelosi also unloaded about $4.5 million worth of investments in Salesforce.
Pelosi listed 10 properties, worth at least $23 million. With an exception of a St. Helena estate and vineyard on Zinfandel Lane at the banks of the Napa River with a value of at least $5 million, the rest of Pelosi’s properties are owned by her husband. She reported multiple mortgages as liabilities.
One of the deadly blazes that ravaged Northern California in October stopped less than four miles from the Pelosi vineyard.
“It’s like in an inferno there, you’d think it had been bombed to see some of the areas in the valley,” Pelosi told The Times last fall when asked if any of her property was affected by the fires.
Pelosi and her husband also earned rental income in 2016 from a townhome near the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Norden. The forms state they sold that home at the end of the year for somewhere between $1,000,001 and $5 million. Records show it sold for $1.53 million. They also listed the sale of real estate in Napa Valley for between half a million and $1 million. Records show that sale was for $600,000.
In 2016, Paul Pelosi owned at least $1.5 million worth of Apple stock, reported an investment of at least $1 million in Walt Disney Co. and owned at least half a million in Facebook stock.
Sometimes they make mistakes
Writing in Roll Call, Hawkings and Paul V. Fontelo point out that “the policing of the accuracy of these reports appears to be spotty,” with errors earning nothing but official letters from an ethics panel asking the lawmaker to file an amendment.
There’s also no standard for how the forms are filled in. Some are handwritten with hundreds of difficult-to-decipher names of investments. And like anything using numbers, there can be mistakes.
For example, The Times caught an error made by Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego). Reporters noticed his wealth had seemed to plummet by $50 million because an investment fund held by his wife, Lynn Gorguze, was sold in November 2016. Aides to Peters said Friday the fund was incorrectly tabulated in 2015, and actually was valued at a minimum of $1 million that year. So his wealth only dipped slightly. Peters will be filing an amendment to the disclosure, his staff said.
Still, his minimum net worth is so high that even with the correction, he remains the third-richest Californian in Congress.
Times staff writers Sarah D. Wire and Javier Panzar contributed to this report.
See the full list at latimes.com/wealthranking.