When Donald Trump decided to throw his hat in the ring as a contender for the Presidency in 2016, it put a huge spotlight on the issue of the candidates’ personal wealth.
The richest and poorest U.S presidential candidates
We learned many things, starting with the fact that they are almost all quite wealthy, boasting an average net worth of more than $13 million when Trump, who skews the figures with his $4.5 billion fortune, is excluded.
At Forbes, we’ve been tracking Trump’s net worth, and sparring with him over it, since 1982, but for the first time we decided to put together a comprehensive list of each candidate’s individual fortune.
Leaving out Trump, the 19 candidates from both major parties that we tracked have a cumulative net worth of $254 million, with all but four of them claiming the title of multi-millionaires. Eight of the presidential hopefuls are sitting on 11-digit fortunes, with Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina’s wealth valued at more than $30 million each, along with the Donald.
How, exactly, did they get so rich? One common thread is the use of their political capital for personal gain. Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are emblematic cases.
The third Bush to seek the Presidency left the governorship of Florida in 2007 with a declared net worth of less than $1.3 million, which he’s multiplied nearly 16-fold on the back of his prestigious last name, extensive network, and executive experience. Consulting, richly rewarded speaking engagements, and private equity deals helped him gross $29 million through 2013, the last year for which he released tax returns.
In Huckabee’s case, he leveraged a failed 2008 presidential bid into a highly successful media career that included a TV show and appearances on Fox News, radio gigs, books and speeches. He’s now worth $9 million. And then there’s Hillary Clinton.
As my colleague Dan Alexander explains in his well-researched piece, Bill and Hillary left the White House essentially broke in 2001 (note that our valuations include spouses’ assets as well), only to make an incredible $230 million over the next 14 years through speaking engagements, book deals, and consulting gigs.
To our own astonishment, their latest public disclosure lists a maximum of $53 million in assets (we valued them at $45 million). The Clintons make it crystal clear that despite disclosure requirements by the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Government Ethics, and even adding voluntarily revealed tax filings, the relationship between money and power remains fraught with obscurity.
To a certain extent, financial transparency is an illusion inWashington. Leaving the highest offices a public servant can aspire to, such as the Presidency or the State Department, can be exceptionally fruitful.
Which takes us to the opposite end of the spectrum. Only three candidates had a net worth that didn’t crack a million bucks: Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, and Martin O’Malley.
We pegged Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley’s net worth at $0, the lowest of any candidate in the race. O’Malley’s latest filings show he and his wife earned more than $600,000 during the last reporting period, yet, like many Americans, he’s been crushed by student debt, as he tries to put his four children through school.
With Rubio, his financial mismanagement has been well documented, including the acquisition of a pricey boat and an expensive lease on a luxury car, as liabilities mounted. We valued Rubio at $100,000.
The frugal Sanders ($700,000) is a case apart, accumulating very few assets in his lifetime and deriving the bulk of his net worth from his homes in Vermont and Washington, D.C.
Once again, we learned that our valuations are much more than a vain contest of egos. Rather, they provide a financial snapshot of our political class, pointing a light on their substantial wealth while unearthing a clear trend of using legislative or executive experience to build a profitable career in the public sector.
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