Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Study: Elected DC Officials wealth way up, Constituents wealth way down

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas, everyone!

“Now, back on your heads.”

Thus goes the punch line to a very good, albeit old – yet timeless – joke.

It seems that a few poor souls were condemned to spending eternity in Hades, yet were also given the luxury of a guided tour and a choice. They viewed three vile rooms, each one littered and strewn with broken glass, shards of metal, and infested with vermin, roaches, excrement, garbage and all variety of filth.

The only difference between the rooms was the depth of the waste and debris.

In one room, everyone was standing around in waist-deep filth. In another, everyone was standing around in chest-deep filth. And in the third and final room, all were standing around in knee-depth filth, drinking coffee.

To the condemned, it seemed a no-brainer, so they told their Satanic tour guide they chose the third and final room, where they saw everyone standing around in knee-depth filth, drinking coffee.

Poof! They were in the room quicker than the blink of an eye – each one holding a cup of coffee, in knee-deep filthy excrement.

No sooner had they taken their first sip of coffee, than a cursing demon came in the room, cracking a whip in his hand and and screaming, “Coffee break’s over! Now back on your heads!”

And so, how does this cute joke relate to the story that follows?

Sometimes, things don’t appear as they really are. A particular case in point is the Occupy Wall Street movement. Among many hard-line right-wingers, the OWS movement is nothing more than a bunch of modern-day good-for-nothing dope-smoking hippies and bums who need to shave, and get a job.

And yet, we all know that proverbially “shooting the messenger” has never successfully resolved any problem.

This news item again clearly identifies yet another problem of the disparity of income – this one between our elected officials and their constituency.

Here are a list of a few things that we should demand. (Imagine that! The people demanding something from the people they elect! Why, the very idea!)

It’s high time for:

• Term Limitations – two in the Senate (12 years) and four in the House (8 years) for a total of 20 years. That’s long enough for anyone. We term limit the President, and should term limit the Congress, as well.

• All members of Congress should have their property held in, and managed by a blind trust for the duration of their elected service.

• All members of Congress should be forbade from lobbying Congress for a period of five years after the conclusion of their elected service.
_ _ _

Growing wealth widens distance between lawmakers and constituents

By , Published: December 26, 2011

BUTLER, Pa. — One day after his shift at the steel mill, Gary Myers drove home in his 10-year-old Pontiac and told his wife he was going to run for Congress.

The odds were long. At 34, Myers was the shift foreman at the “hot mill” of the Armco plant here. He had no political experience, little or no money, and he was a Republican in a district that tilted Democrat.

But standing in the dining room, still in his work clothes, he said he felt voters deserved a better choice.

Three years later, he won.

Back when Myers entered Congress in 1975, it wasn’t nearly so unusual for a person with few assets besides a home to win and serve in Congress. Though representatives have long been more prosperous than other Americans, others of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter and a house painter. A handful had even organized into what was called the “Blue Collar Caucus.”

But the financial gap between Americans and their representatives in Congress has widened considerably since then, according to an analysis of financial disclosures by The Washington Post.

Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House has risen 2 1 / 2 times, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, rising from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the median sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.

All figures have been adjusted for inflation and exclude home equity, which is not included in congressional reporting. The year 1984 was chosen because it was the earliest for which consistent wealth data were available.

The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers.

“My mother and I used to joke we were like the Beverly Hillbillies when we rolled into McLean, and we really were,” said Michele Myers, the congressman’s daughter, now 46. “My dad was driving this awful lime green Ford Maverick, and I bought my clothes at Kmart.”

Today, this area of Pennsylvania just north of Pittsburgh is represented in Congress by another Republican, Mike Kelly, a wealthy car dealer elected for the first time in 2010. Kelly, as it happens, grew up just a few houses down the street from the Myers family, in a larger brick home.

Kelly’s dad owned the local Chevrolet and Cadillac dealership in Butler, and Kelly, an affable former football recruit to Notre Dame, had worked there since he was a kid. Three years after graduating from college, he married Victoria, an heir to the Phillips oil fortune. He eventually bought and took control of the family car business, and today, the net worth of Kelly and his wife runs in the millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure forms.

Both men refer to their personal life experiences in explaining their political outlook.

Myers, the son of a bricklayer, had worked his way through college to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and looked at issues of work and security at least partly through the lens of his own experience. For example, he bucked other Republicans to vote to raise the minimum wage and favored expanding a program to aid workers affected by foreign imports. He said he understood the need for what was then called “the safety net.”

“It would be hard to argue that the work in the steel mill didn’t give me a different perspective,” said Myers, now 74 and retired in Florida, said. “I think everybody’s history has an impact on them.”

Kelly, on the other hand, focuses on the hard work he and his family have done to build the dealership. The government should be run more like a business and laws must be fair to people who strive and succeed. He opposes the estate tax, the inheritance tax levied on the wealthy, because, among other things, he feels he has been overtaxed already. He says unemployment checks make some less willing to go back to work. And asked about tax breaks for oil companies, he notes that when corporations profit, people with pensions and portfolios do, too.

Moreover, he favors the so-called Ryan budget plan, which seeks to eliminate tax loopholes and lowers the income tax on the highest earners from 35 percent to 25 percent.

In explaining his outlook, Kelly often refers to his father. One of nine kids who started the car business almost from scratch, his father was skeptical of the ideas for social programs and education that his son brought home from college in the late ’60s.

“He’d say ‘Oh, I love your ideas, I love your ideas,’ ” Kelly recalled. “But he’d say, ‘You know why its a great country, don’t you? We worked our asses off. That’s why it’s a great country.’ ”

High cost of campaigning

The growing financial comfort of Congress relative to most Americans is consistent with the general trends in the United States toward inequality of wealth: Members of Congress have long been wealthier than average Americans, and in recent decades the wealth of the wealthiest Americans has outpaced that of the average.

In 1984, the 90th percentile of U.S. families had holdings worth six times the median family; by 2009, the 90th percentile was worth 12 times the median family, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics out of the University of Michigan, a longitudinal panel survey. These figures include home equity.

This growing inequality, not surprisingly, is seen in Congress. Not only has the median wealth increased, but the proportion of representatives who have little besides a home has shrunk. In 1984, one in five House members had zero or negative net worth excluding home equity, according to the disclosures; by 2009, that number had dropped to one in 12.

Another possible reason for the growing wealth of Congress is that running a campaign has become much, much more expensive, making it more likely that wealthy people, who can donate substantially to their own campaigns, gain office.

Since 1976, the amount that the average winning candidate for a House seat spent has quadrupled in inflation-adjusted dollars to $1.4 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

For example, Myers’s first winning campaign for Congress, in 1974, cost $33,000, according to federal election records. That’s about $146,000 in current dollars, or one-tenth the current average. To make do, his wife held coffee klatches and improvised brochures with markers and index cards.

“Each one had different colors and designs my mom made — and they’d hand them out at stores,” Myers’s son, Mark, recalled. “I don’t want to disparage my parents, but it was kind of like they were running for student council.”

By contrast, when Kelly ran for the first time in 2010, he spent $1.2 million on his election, financing $380,000 of it himself, according to campaign records.

Finally, while congressional pay is a frequent object of controversy, it is unlikely to have been one of the reasons for the growing disparity between representatives and their constituents. In inflation-adjusted dollars, Myers earned $215,000 in 1977; today, a member of Congress earns $174,000.

Political polarization

About a decade ago, academics studying the effect of income inequality on politics noticed a striking fact: The growth of income inequality has tracked very closely with measures of political polarization, which has been gauged using the average difference between the liberal/conservative scores for Republican and Democratic members of the House. The scores come from a database widely used by academics.

“The proximity of these trends is uncanny,” according to a 2003 paper by researchers Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal. “Remarkably, the trends of economic inequality and elite political polarization have moved almost in tandem for the past half-century.”

Exactly why this should be is a matter of ongoing research. Likewise, it is probably impossible to pinpoint the effects that the growing wealth gap may have on members of Congress — too many different factors, including party affiliation and district leanings, come to bear when a member of Congress casts a vote.

But a person’s financial circumstances certainly impacts a person’s political outlook. For example, people identified as lower or middle class have been more likely to see income inequality as a problem and to favor redistribution of income, according to figures from the General Social Survey.

Moreover, there is at least some research that shows that members of Congress bring their life experiences to bear when they vote. Members of Congress with a higher proportion of daughters, for example, are more likely to take liberal positions on women’s issues, according to a 2006 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research by Ebonya Washington.

Similarly, a representative’s occupation before being elected influences how liberal or conservative he or she votes, according to an analysis of more than 50 years of congressional votes by Duke University professor Nick Carnes.

In order from most conservative to most liberal: farm owners; businesspeople such as bankers or insurance executives; private-sector professionals such as doctors, engineers and architects; lawyers; service-based professionals such as teachers and social workers; politicians; and blue-collar workers, according to the analysis, which is being published in Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Carnes said that while party affiliation is the strongest determinant of congressional voting, “the differences between legislators of different occupational backgrounds are pretty striking. People tend to bring the worldview that comes with their occupation with them into office,” he said.

‘Kill more than you eat’

Kelly begins the story of the car dealership with his father, who started out in the auto business as a “parts picker” in a warehouse. Getting paid by the part, he donned roller skates to bump up his productivity.

Eventually his father saved enough to buy a dealership here and soon the family was building a new showroom themselves on a farm just outside town. Mike Kelly, as the oldest, was in charge of feeding the animals.

“Each of the boys was in charge of some area of the dealership,” recalled Pat Collins, who worked for a year at the dealership in the ’70s. She is now the director of the Butler County Historical Society. “That was Mike’s life — the cars. The Kellys had the dealership, but those kids were not put above anybody else. They worked.”

“He used to sweep up the garage, wash cars for his dad,” said Art Bernardi, Kelly’s old football coach at Butler High School, where Kelly excelled. “I’m sure he had a lot more than the average guy. But he doesn’t live a fancy life. He acts like someone who works at the mill or whatever.”

In 1973, Kelly married Victoria, an heir of the Phillips oil fortune. Kelly’s financial disclosure forms show that among her holdings is stock in Phillips Resources Inc., valued at between $5 million and $25 million, and which generated more than $100,000 annually in dividends.

Four years out of college in 1974, Mike and Victoria were able to buy a home for $50,000, roughly twice the median value of home in Pennsylvania at the time, a large, stately home near the downtown.

In 1997, Kelly bought his dad’s business from him, taking out a $1.6 million mortgage to pay for it.

When discussing his wealth and how it came to him, Kelly, who was called “Millionaire Mike” during the election campaign, grows animated.

“The way my dad taught me was pretty basic: You have to kill more than you eat. You gotta wake up every day before anyone else, you better get to work and you better stay later than everybody else,” he said. “I’m a rich guy because I’ve worked hard. I gotta work every fricking day. Listen, nobody gives it to you. I compete. I’m not the only guy selling hot dogs at the ballpark, okay?”

His life at the car dealership influences much of his political outlook:

— On unemployment: Asked how long the government should pay jobless benefits, Kelly suggests that the government checks keep some of the unemployed from returning to work. He interviews some of the jobless for openings at the dealership.

“They say, ‘When are you looking to hire somebody?’ I say, ‘Right now — that’s why we have an ad in the paper.’ They say, ‘Well, I still have about six weeks left on my unemployment. Will you still be looking for somebody then?’

Kelly shrugs.

“I think that in a way we have made it harder for people to make a decision to move forward,” Kelly said.

— On the estate tax, which he would like to repeal: “The death tax doesn’t make sense to me. I would like to think that after I’ve worked all my life I could pass something on and not have to worry about a government that already overtaxed me my whole life taking it one day.”

— On Washington, the wealthy, and the private sector: “Let’s stop railing against the really wealthy because I got to tell you something, as a guy who has had to pay his own way his whole life, I am greatly offended by the idea that somehow someone in Washington knows how to spend my money better than I do,” Kelly said during emotional remarks during a committee markup in June that attracted lots of attention through YouTube.

— Kelly has been critical of the bank bailouts, too. But he declined to say whether he favored the government’s $50 billion bailout of General Motors, which benefited his auto dealership. Had GM gone out of business, it would have deprived Kelly of cars to sell at his Chevrolet Cadillac dealership, reducing his inventory to Hyundai, Kia and used cars. The government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program, which offered financial incentives for consumers to trade in old cars, also helped Kelly sell $2.9 million of cars.

As the automaker neared the brink of collapse in December 2008, didn’t he hope the government would offer a lifeline?

“I thought about making my payroll every two weeks,” he said.

From poverty to elected office

In the “hot mill” at the Armco steel plant, Myers supervised about 25 steel workers, the members of an independent union. The operation transformed slabs of steel in ovens heated to about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit into coils, for later processing. He considered himself neither a worker nor a part of executive management. He was a shift foreman with engineering responsibilities, and each day he wore a work shirt, jeans and work boots.

He had grown up poor. His father, a bricklayer, had a drinking problem, he said, and his mother, a schoolteacher, largely raised Myers and his three siblings. At 9, Myers recalls working at his grandfather’s nine-table restaurant, washing dishes for 10 cents an hour. As a teenager, he started a business mowing lawns and eventually set his eyes on getting one of the co-op jobs at the steel mill, which allowed him to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati.

That day in the dining room, he had explained to his wife that voters deserved better representation because neither “the Democrats or Republicans are putting up good options for us.”

Besides, he had tried to talk his brother into running, and he wouldn’t do it. He recognized his run for Congress might seem presumptuous.

“When it started getting around and the fellas down at work heard about it, I thought people might say stuff — you know, down there you stub your toe and they ridicule you,” Myers said. “I suppose some people probably thought, ‘What’s that Myers think he’s doing?’ But no one said anything. I was very grateful.”

He didn’t know much about running a campaign, and it was largely improvised by his wife, Elaine. She organized small gatherings and offered him tips on public speaking — when she noticed people’s feet started shuffling, she flashed him a sign to move onto another subject.

For fundraising, he turned to the president of a local plant who had connections to some of the money in the area.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we have a fundraiser at Elwood Country Club?’ ” recalled Robert Barensfeld, then president of the Elwood City Forge, a local plant, who became his finance chairman. “He thought it was the greatest idea since free beer.”

But while Myers accepted individual contributions, he shunned money from businesses and lobbying groups. Barensfeld said “it was against his principle.” Some of his volunteers thought he should take it, but Myers told them he didn’t want to get elected simply because he had more money.

He lost his first election, but was encouraged by the narrow margin of defeat. He ran again in 1974 and won. On the day after his election, a Pittsburgh TV station asked him to come be a guest on a news show. Myers told them he couldn’t come because he had worn out both the family cars during the campaign. The station agreed to send a car for him.

In Washington, Myers in most ways hewed to the Republican line: He voted at times to hold down the government’s debt, for example, and voted against raising Social Security taxes.

But like Kelly, he brought to bear his life experiences.

As might be expected of an engineer, Myers had a scientific cast of mind, according to his staffers at the time, demanding research and numbers to inform his views. But with the steel mills in his district struggling, he was also keenly aware of the problems facing thousands of workers. On issues relating directly to workers, Myers sometimes broke with the party majority.

He supported, for example, a hike in the minimum wage, then $2.30 an hour. He supported an amendment expanding a program that extends unemployment and other benefits to workers adversely impacted by trade. He voted fora $4 billion boost to a public works jobs program pushed by President Carter.

“I think he realized that good people sometimes fall on hard times,” said James Kunder, who as a young Harvard graduate just out of the Marines worked as an aide to Myers in the ’70s. “He wouldn’t have been elected from that district at that time if he didnt exude some of that spirit.”

Today, amid the debates on tax rates on the wealthy, he suggests raising the marginal income tax rate on the very highest incomes to 45 percent.

Myers also broke with Republicans on issues relating to business influence in politics, voting to require lobbying groups to disclose mass mailings and proposing an amendment that would force businesses to disclose when former members of the House lobbied on the House floor.

“He clearly saw that money could adversely affect politics,” said Jim Turner, another former aide, then recently out of Yale Divinity School.

Near the beginning of his second term, Myers stunned his staff and many in his district by announcing that he would not run for a third term, which it appeared he could have easily earned. He said he wanted to spend more time with his kids. He returned to the mill, taking a pay cut from the $57,500 that members of Congress then earned. Back in Butler, he coached his son’s baseball team and helped start a soccer program at the high school.

Today, when asked about the effect of wealth on members of Congress, Myers is characteristically detached.

“I guess I could see where someone who made a lot from personal risk taking and business initiative could have a different outlook. Even if people come with biases, I’m not sure they’re evil biases. I don’t have any problem with someone who has a lot of money. But I don’t have any doubt that my perspective was different from someone who had more money.”

This news story originally appeared here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/growing-wealth-widens-distance-between-lawmakers-and-constituents/2011/12/05/gIQAR7D6IP_print.html

December 26, 2011

Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill

By

WASHINGTON — When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans.

Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner’s son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires. That group has grown in recent years to include nearly half of all members of Congress — 250 in all — and the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents appears to be growing quickly, even as Congress debates unemployment benefits, possible cuts in food stamps and a “millionaire’s tax.”

Mr. Pastor buys a Powerball lottery ticket every weekend and says he does not consider himself rich. Indeed, within the halls of Congress, where the median net worth is $913,000 and climbing, he is not. He is a rank-and-file millionaire. But compared with the country at large, where the median net worth is $100,000 and has dropped significantly since 2004, he and most of his fellow lawmakers are true aristocrats.

Largely insulated from the country’s economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress — many of them among the “1 percenters” denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters — have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group.

Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers.

But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent.

The wealth gap may go largely unnoticed in good times. “But with the American public feeling all this economic pain, people just resent it more,” said Alan J. Ziobrowski, a professor at Georgia State who studied lawmakers’ stock investments.

There is broad debate about just why the wealth gap appears to be growing. For starters, the prohibitive costs of political campaigning may discourage the less affluent from even considering a candidacy. Beyond that, loose ethics controls, shrewd stock picks, profitable land deals, favorable tax laws, inheritances and even marriages to wealthy spouses are all cited as possible explanations for the rising fortunes on Capitol Hill.

What is clear is that members of Congress are getting richer compared not only with the average American worker, but also with other very rich Americans.

While the median net worth of members of Congress jumped 15 percent from 2004 to 2010, the net worth of the richest 10 percent of Americans remained essentially flat. For all Americans, median net worth dropped 8 percent, based on inflation-adjusted data from Moody’s Analytics.

Going back further, the median wealth of House members grew some two and a half times between 1984 and 2009 in inflation-adjusted dollars, while the wealth of the average American family has actually declined slightly in that same time period, according to data cited by The Washington Post in an article published Monday on its Web site.

With millionaire status now the norm, the rarefied air in the Capitol these days is $100 million. That lofty level appears to have been surpassed by at least 10 members, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and former auto alarm magnate who is worth somewhere between $195 million and $700 million. (Because federal law requires lawmakers to disclose their assets only in broad dollar ranges, more precise estimates are impossible.)

Their wealth has created occasional political problems for Congress’s richest.

Mr. Issa, for instance, has faced outside scrutiny because of the overlap of his Congressional work and outside interests, including extensive investments with Wall Street firms like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, as well as land holdings in his San Diego district. In one case, he obtained some $800,000 in federal earmarks for a road-widening project running along his commercial property.

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is married to Teresa Heinz Kerry, set off an uproar last year when it was disclosed that he had docked his $7 million, 76-foot yacht not in his home state but in neighboring Rhode Island, which has no sales or use tax on pleasure boats. (Mr. Kerry, worth at least $181 million, voluntarily paid $400,000 in Massachusetts taxes after criticism.)

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, was challenged about her wealth, as much as $196 million, by a member of her own party a few weeks ago. Representative Laura Richardson, a California Democrat who is among the poorest members of Congress with as much as $464,000 in debt, attacked Ms. Pelosi at a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting for endorsing a Congressional pay freeze, according to a report in Politico that was confirmed by other members.

Ms. Richardson angrily told Ms. Pelosi that, unlike her, some members needed the raise. Members now make a base pay of $174,000 and would automatically get a cost-of-living adjustment unless they were to decide, for a third straight year, to pass it up. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the rising Congressional wealth fuels public doubts about whether members are more focused on their constituents’ interests or their own investment portfolios.

“There’s always a concern that they can’t truly understand or relate to the hardships that their constituents feel — that rich people just don’t get it,” she said.

In an effort to gauge how directly the country’s economic problems affected lawmakers, The New York Times contacted the offices of the 534 current members (one seat is vacant) for an informal survey. It asked if they had close friends or family members who had lost jobs or homes since the 2008 downturn.

Only 18 members responded.

Half the respondents said they had close friends or relatives who lost homes, while the other half said their personal contact was limited to constituents who came for help.

Two-thirds said they had close friends or relatives who had been laid off or had shut down a business during the downturn. The rest knew no one in that category personally.

Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat who took part in the survey, said several cousins in their 40s and 50s whom she considers brothers and sisters lost their jobs recently. Without college degrees, none have found work, and they have emphasized to her the importance of unemployment benefits.

“Personal stories are very powerful because it’s not a theory,” Ms. Eshoo said. “It’s not talking points of a party. These are people experiencing the harshness of what is an economic depression for them.”

Multimillionaires in Congress “view life through a different lens,” she said.

Ms. Eshoo herself has escaped the worries weighing on her cousins. While she reported being in debt in 2004, she is now worth an estimated $1.8 million, her financial reports show. She said the rise came mostly from the sale of a family home where she lived for 40 years.

“I was fortunate,” she said. “I’ve lived from paycheck to paycheck most of my life, and I’m a single mother.”

One likely cause of the rising wealth, political analysts say, is the growing cost of a political campaign. A successful Senate run cost on average nearly $10 million last year, and a successful House race was $1.4 million, significantly above past elections.

The prohibitive cost has inevitably drawn richer candidates who can help bankroll their own campaigns and attract donations from rich friends — while deterring less well-off candidates, political analysts say.

The data analyzed by The Times corroborated the idea that incoming members are in fact richer than those in the past. The freshman class of 106 members elected last year, including many Tea Party-backed Republicans, had a median net worth of $864,000 — an inflation-adjusted increase of 26 percent from the 2004 freshmen.

Once in Congress, members benefit from many financial perks unavailable to most Americans. Beyond a base salary of $174,000 — an increase of about 10 percent since 2004, somewhat less than inflation — members get extra pay for senior posts and generous medical and pension benefits, as well as accouterments of power often financed by taxpayers or their campaigns.

While the housing collapse nationwide has hurt many Americans, lawmakers still find the real estate sector the most popular place to park their money, statistics from the Center of Responsive Politics show, and members of Congress continue to profit from their investments there. Perhaps the most tantalizing but hotly debated factor in the rising wealth of Congress is lawmakers’ performance in the stock markets — and the question of whether they are using their access to confidential information to enrich themselves.

In a study completed this year, Mr. Ziobrowski at Georgia State and his colleagues found that House members saw the stocks they owned outperform the market by 6 percent a year. Their research from several years ago found that senators did even better, at 12 percent above average. The researchers attributed the performance to a “significant information advantage” that lawmakers hold by virtue of their positions and the fact they are not bound by insider-trading law.

However, a separate study last year by researchers at Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the portfolios of lawmakers actually performed somewhat worse than average investors. It found that members did do better when investing in companies in their home districts or associated with campaign donors — suggesting that they benefited from their political connections — but still not as well as the average investor.

While concerns go back decades about lawmakers trading on confidential information, the issue drew renewed attention with a new book on the topic, “Throw Them All Out” by Peter Schweizer, and a “60 Minutes” report in November. Both linked high-level briefings that Congressional leaders received on the 2008 financial crisis and on health care to their purchase and sale of certain stocks.

Members insisted that they never traded on information that was not public, and some Congressional leaders pointed out that their investments were in blind trusts managed by professional advisers. Nonetheless, the publicity led some 90 members of Congress to call anew for a ban on insider trading.

Mr. Pastor, the Arizona congressman, said he never relied on fancy stock investments to make money. He said the key to his good fortune was watching what he spends, paying off debts and, at age 68, collecting Social Security and a pension from his days as a county supervisor.

“I don’t see myself as a man of great wealth,” he said. “To say that I’m enjoying a millionaire’s lifestyle — well, I can tell you, I guess a millionaire’s income doesn’t go very far these days.”

Emmarie Huetteman and Derek Willis contributed reporting.

This news story originally appeared here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/us/politics/economic-slide-took-a-detour-at-capitol-hill.html?_r=2&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimes&pagewanted=print

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