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The millionaires' club

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann did some calculus and tells us how much senators, and potential vice presidential candidates are worth.

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:

  • Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia: He struggled through on the $80 million in his blind trust funds. 
  • Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina: She was declared to be worth somewhere between $10 million and $43 million. 
  • Jon Corzine of New Jersey: Reportedly between $50 and $100 million in assets. 
  • Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts: Somewhere between $8 million and $40 million in family trust funds.  But no Kennedy just sits back and live on inherited wealth.  Oh, no, his disclosure includes a Boston parking space.  He rents it out for $2,500 a year to some other guy.  He makes money the old-fashioned way.  He earns it. 
  • Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois: He reported his income down to the penny, $1,138,366.09.  Last year, he listed four cars, including a 1992 Ford pickup truck worth $250, also a 1990 Geo Prizm.  We have an update.  This year, his pickup is still running, but the Prizm has gone to charity. 
  • Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah: Worth between $800,000 and $2 million in 2003, but his book and music royalties had slid from $43,000 in 2002 to $33,000 in 2003. 
  • Dr. Bill Frist, senator from Tennessee: He has blind trusts ranging from $7 million to $35 million.  And, irony warning, the former heart surgeon has three sons who have small interests in Wendy's restaurants and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. 
  • Ted Stevens of Alaska: His reported real estate worth up to $1.5 million.  He also got a sled dog last year as a present.  Then he bought the dog's twin, cost him $250.  He should have bought Senator Durbin's 1992 Ford for $250.  But that's besides the point. 
  • Charles Grassley of Iowa: He raked in between $1 million and $3 million last year, $45,000 of which came from his corn and grain farm, where the corn is as high as an elephant's eye. 
  • And a tale of two senators and two lifestyles in New York:  While Hillary Clinton and husband took in $6.6 million in speaking fees and the revenue from her book, Senior New York Senator Chuck Schumer had to sell off some of his holdings so that his kids could afford to go to college.  It sounds like Senator Schumer needs to write a book and do an audio version that stretches out over 41 C.D.s. 

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.