Video: Millionaires club

updated 6/16/2004 2:57:22 PM ET 2004-06-16T18:57:22

Starting late in the 19th century, the top nickname for the Senate has been "The millionaires' club." And today, it is literally true.  At least 42 of U.S. senators are millionaires.

The new senate financial disclosure forms are out.  And apart from assessing how the better half of the bicameral legislature lives, it provides us, as always, with some gut laughs that the senators would have preferred to keep quiet. 

For instance, which of them owns a $766,000 house and a $1,000 car?  We pay their salary, $154,700 a piece.  They have to take care of the rest.  Below are some highlights:

Financial battle for the White House
One more financial surprise:  The four senators on John Kerry's supposed short-list for the vice presidential slot on the ticket? Why, they're all millionaires! 

The wealthiest possible V.P. contender, John Edwards of North Carolina, his mass tort law career gives him reported assets somewhere in the range of $14 million, maybe $44 million.  (They're a little imprecise.) 

The poorest millionaire in the bunch—and, yes, we're calling a millionaire poor—is Bill Nelson of Florida, $1.8 million to $7 million. Senator Bob Graham, also of Florida, is bringing home bacon to the tune of $7 million to $30 million.  And last, but certainly not least, at least not in this crowd, Evan Bayh of Indiana, a reported $3 to $5 million.  Then, again, he's fairly young. 

Those bank accounts positively puny in comparison the substantial disposable income of Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, whose husband, John Heinz, a senator himself, was heir to the half billion-dollar ketchup fortune that bore his name.

But politics can be a cruel business.  Nearly all of that money is off limits to the Kerry campaign. 

Ketchup money? No. Big hair band idles of the 1980? Yes. 
Jon Bon Jovi is to the rescue, raising $1 million last Monday singing and shilling for the Kerry campaign.  Because of events like that one, Kerry is now outpacing Bush 2-1 on the fund-raising circuit, with a haul of $30 million in April alone.  But that feat sounds perhaps more impressive than it actually is: Bush has earned the right to coast with a huge advantage over Kerry in cash on hand.

As of the end of April, it was $71 million to $28 million.  Also working in the president's favor is the home-field advantage and a taxpayer-funded jetliner called Air Force One that happens to come with his job.  Mr. Bush has already logged 68,000 frequent flyer miles this year, most of the trips to one of the dozen or so battleground swing states that will decide this election. 

No surprise, then, that government watchdog groups are crying "foul," accusing the Bush campaign of abusing the privilege.  Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, is digging into his war chest to pay for his own charter plane.  His only perk?  He can already anoint himself president with a snazzy, yet sneaky paint job on the side.  Think of the money they saved leaving off the letters F-O-R. 

This was Countdown with Keith Olbermann's No. 3 story for Tuesday. 'Countdown' airs weeknights, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC.


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