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Study shows U.S. Congress increased wealth amid recession
Date: 2010/11/23 Click: 1684
For many Americans heading to the polls during the mid term elections, the perception that Congress was not representing them was prevalent.

Indeed, public approval of Congress hit lows of 17 percent in November, according to a Gallup poll, as Americans remain frustrated with an unemployment rate that hovers near the double digits and is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels for years to come. Many feel that Congress stands aloof from ordinary Americans and is doing little to boost employment.

Now, a new study may offer an additional reason for Americans to believe in a disconnect between Congress and the average Joe.

Between 2008 and 2009, members of Congress collectively increased their personal wealth by more than 16 percent, according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics released this week.

Moreover, while some members' financial portfolios lost value during this worst recession since the 1930s, nearly half of them -- 261 -- are millionaires, the Center's study found. That compares to about 1 percent of Americans who are in the same financial boat, the Center said.

"It's a huge disconnect. The people who serve on Capitol Hill do not reflect the type of people who make up mainstream America," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, an advocacy group.

"That is what really breeds a lot of the cynicism that the American public has toward Congress, the belief that members of Congress 'really do not represent people like me.'"

Regardless of which party they belonged to, all members of Congress increased their median wealth in 2009 to 911,510 U.S. dollars, up from 785,515 U.S. dollars in 2008, the study found.

The spike mirrors a rebound from the period between 2007 and 2008, when overall congressional wealth slipped by more than 5 percent, the study found.

"If you are without a job, if you are underemployed, you might wonder whether your member of Congress who may have a million or 10 million or a 100 million dollars in assets really does understand your struggles," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

The most popular investments among lawmakers are companies that are the most powerful corporate political forces in Washington, who spend millions or tens of millions of dollars each year lobbying federal officials, the Center said.

Many of them donate millions of dollars to federal candidates each election cycle through their top employees and political action committees, the Center said.

"This information we feel is critical for Americans to pay attention to," Levinthal said. "It behooves them to know whether their member of Congress has a conflict of interest or if they are invested in a company that could benefit or be hurt by a particular piece of legislation they are considering."

Still, some observers argue that not all members of Congress are aloof from their constituents, as some lawmakers have fought hard for legislation that they believe would help those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And just because a lawmaker is wealthy does not make them immune to their constituents' economic woes, some observers contend.
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