Congressmen see wealth soar

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There’s an old joke about an honest congressman who refused to take advantage of his position to enrich himself and was defeated at re-election because his constituents considered him too dumb to hold elective office.

If that is the case for Louisiana’s redrawn 3rd Congressional District, voters are going to be in a real quandary next Tuesday when it comes time to choose between the two incumbents. Not to trivialize the campaign of Democrat Ron Richard, but realistically, this race is between Republicans Ron Landry and Charles Boustany.

Campaign contributions certainly bear that analysis out: Boustany has received about $3 million in contributions to Landry’s $1.8 million, while Richard has pulled in only $53,000, according to figures provided by, an online campaign-tracking organization.

But the real story may be how both Landry and Boustany have seen their fortunes grow while serving in Congress.

The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics recently published an analysis of the financial health of each of the 535 members of the House and Senate and the report showed that all but two of Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation (six congressmen and two senators) saw their bottom lines increase significantly since taking office.

But in the 3rd Congressional District, the two Republican frontrunners saw their wealth increase much more dramatically – 262 percent for Boustany and 233 percent for Landry.

But Landry did it in much shorter time – from $2.5 million in 2009 to $8.2 million just a year later.

Boustany’s wealth was listed at $1.4 million in 2010, up from $400,000 in 2004.

Put another way, Boustany had a $1 million increase in his estimated wealth over a six-year period compared to an increase of $5.7 million in a single year for Landry.

Boustany serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, which, among other things, handle commercial matters that include trade agreements, revenue measures and transportation of durable goods. It also oversees Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and passage of highway and farm bills.

His five largest contributors, by industry, include health professionals, $284,725; insurance, $151,700; oil and gas, $127,550; health services/HMOs, $115,300; and lobbyists, $95,067.

Landry serves on the House committees on Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure and Small Business.

His five biggest contributors, by industry, include sea transport, $128,550; oil and gas, $124,416; retired, $52,600; crop production and basic processing, $44,600, and general contractors, $34,250.

The Washington Post story said investments by members of Congress range from riskier, high-growth funds to safer municipal bonds. While lawmakers range from the super-rich to the deep-in-debt, they generally don’t get rich simply by virtue of their membership in Congress. On the other hand, wealthy candidates who go to Congress seem to get richer while serving.

The wealthiest one-third of members were for the most part immune from the recent recession. They took the fewest financial hits and saw their investments recover rather quickly, even rising to new heights, the report said. Another 121 were worse off in 2010 than they were six years before and 24 actually reported their wealth in negative numbers.

The seamier side of congressional wealth is reflected in the fact that 73 members (almost 14 percent) either sponsored or co-sponsored legislation that benefited businesses or industries in which either they or family members had a financial interest.

Others leveraged their positions to lucrative positions in the private sector upon leaving Congress. Two such congressmen were from Louisiana. Richard Baker of Baton Rouge was a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Capital Markets Subcommittee before resigning in January of 2008 to accept a hedge fund lobbying position with the Managed Funds Association.

Billy Tauzin of Chackbay helped ram through the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, which, among other things, prohibited Medicare from negotiating prices on prescription drugs set by pharmaceutical companies. He did not seek re-election in 2004 and the following year took a job as head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a power-lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry.