Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
|Wealth and the Congress|
A Washington Post analysis of the widening gap of the wealth of members of the Congress compared to the constituents they represent did not tell us anything that we did not already know.
The newspaper's in-depth report over the weekend, though, served as a reminder that money plays too large of a roll in the electoral process in America today.
The Post's reporting drew its comparison from the wealth of members of the Congress who served in 2009 versus members who served in the Congress in 1984. The reporting also pulled together data on the wealth of constituents from all over the country, who have witnessed their net wealth – adjusted for inflation – decline since 1984.
It was not surprising to learn that members of the Congress who served as recently as 2009 are far wealthier than the men and women who were elected some 27 years ago. According to The Post analysis, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled from $280,000 to $725,000, excluding home equity, from 1984-2009. The later is an inflation-adjusted figure in 2009 dollars.
Over that same period, or from 1984-2009, the wealth of an American family declined from $20,600 to $20,500 in comparable median figures.
We have known for years it was likely that anyone elected to serve in the U.S. House or Senate was someone of significant means, or an individual who possessed more than modest wealth. That's the case because it has become so expensive to conduct a campaign for a seat in the House or Senate. In other words, very few individuals can get elected to the Congress unless they have the personal wealth to jump-start a campaign while plowing the field, so to speak, to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions of dollars – that are needed to run a successful race for a seat in the Congress.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander of Quitman in Jackson Parish is an exception to what is considered the norm today.
First elected in 2002 to represent the 5th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House, Alexander was not a wealthy man when he ran for a seat in the Congress the first time around. In fact, he's not a wealthy man today either, which should serve as a reminder that it is still possible for elected officials to serve honestly and nobly in the most powerful legislative body on the planet.
That's beside the point, though.
The point is Alexander was able to get elected to the Congress because he was in a position to raise money through contacts he had made over the many years he served in the state House of Representatives. Alexander didn't have the personal cash to lay on the line to finance a campaign for a seat in the U.S. House, but he certainly did not enter the world of congressional politics empty handed.
Since he was not independently wealthy at the time, where would Alexander be today if he had not had those political contacts in 2002 to raise the money he needed to wage a campaign for a seat in the House?
He certainly would not be representing central and northeastern Louisiana in the Congress.
But that's beside the point, too.
The point is The Post analysis confirmed what we have known for some time. That is the Congress – to some degree – has evolved into a playground for the wealthy. That remark is not intended to undermine or demonize the good work many members of the Congress do, including Alexander.
Instead, it is simply an observation of what "public service" has evolved into in the world of congressional politics.