News Column

A Look at America's Richest Politicians

November 4, 2002

Davide Dukcevich, Forbes.com

For too long, politics has been the playground of the legal class.

Indeed, there are more attorneys keeping seats warm in the three branches of the federal government than any other profession.

Recently, though, business leaders -- who are responsible for society's most dynamic and important improvements -- have started to crash the political party.

Two years ago, Americans elected George W. Bush, the first president with a master's in business administration. Last November, the biggest city in the country elected a self-made billionaire mayor, making Michael R. Bloomberg one of New York City's most impressive political arrivistes. B. Thomas Golisano, like Bloomberg a member of the Forbes 400, hopes to duplicate Hizzoner's success by capturing the New York state governorship on Nov. 5.

In celebrating the increasing success of capitalists in the political fold, we have ranked America's 10 richest politicians. To narrow the scope, we only considered people currently holding elective office and those running in this November's election.

1. Michael Bloomberg (Rep.), Mayor, New York City -- Net Worth: $4.8 Billion.
Hizzoner spent about $73 million in 2001 to win the Big Apple's mayoralty, setting a record for the most expensive nonpresidential race in history.

"Well, it's my money," Bloomberg opined.

Following Rudolph Giuliani, one of NYC's most popular mayors, Bloomberg has mighty big shoes to fill -- but no major missteps so far.

2. Winthrop Rockefeller (Rep.), Lieutenant Governor, Arkansas -- Net Worth: $1.2 Billion.
With his common-man clothes and plainspokenness, "Win" may act the part of the average Joe, but he uses his prestigious lineage to maximum electoral benefit. The billionaire gave his reelection campaign for Arkansas lieutenant governor $350,000, more than four times the total amount his Democratic opponent was able to raise.

He readily admitted in a recent debate, "[I] will say the name Rockefeller does tend to get the phone answered and the door opened." Win has expressed interest in one day serving as governor, thereby following in the footsteps of his father, whose liberal policies gave a whole new meaning to the term Rockefeller Republican.

3. B. Thomas Golisano (Ind.), Gubernatorial Candidate, New York -- Net Worth: $1.1 Billion.
The Independent candidate failed in his bids to become governor in 1994 and 1998, but in politics as in love, hope springs eternal. Golisano spent about $20 million a pop in previous campaigns and may spend $75 million this time around. Still, he faces a popular incumbent in Republican George Pataki, making his candidacy a long shot.

4. John Kerry (Dem.), Senator, Massachusetts -- Net Worth: $550 Million.
OK, so it's his wife's money -- but there is a lot of it. The junior senator from Massachusetts is married to Teresa Heinz, whose first husband was the great-grandson of food magnate Howard Heinz. Teresa inherited her fortune after John Heinz, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, died in plane crash in 1991.

Kerry notes that Teresa's wealth is not his, and that he had been elected without her fortune. Still, it does scare away potential opponents. One Massachusetts politico declined to challenge the incumbent in the mid-1990s, saying, "I can think of 675 million good reasons not to run against John Kerry."

5. Tony Sanchez (Dem.), Gubernatorial Candidate, Texas -- Net Worth: $500 Million. Sanchez's net worth is pegged at about $500 million, thanks to interests in banking, oil and technology. The Laredo, Texas, businessman has spent nearly $60 million campaigning for President Bush's old governor's post. But recent polls have the political novice trailing Republican opponent Rick Perry by 9 percentage points. Perry has grilled Sanchez over the 1988 failure of his Tesoro Savings and Loan, a venture that resulted in a $161 million federal bailout.

6. Amo Houghton (Rep.) Representative, New York -- Net Worth: $475 Million.
Houghton, former chief executive of Corning, was close to being Congress' first billionaire just a couple of years ago, according to Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call."

Then the telecom bubble burst, decimating Corning's stock price and evaporating much of the representative's net worth. The moderate Republican, who voted against the Bush-backed Iraq resolution, has also served on the boards of several major companies, including Procter & Gamble, IBM and Citigroup.

7. Jon S. Corzine (Dem.), Senator, New Jersey -- Net Worth: $300 Million.
The limousine liberal spent $60 million to win a Senate seat a couple of years ago, stoking the political ambitions of other civic-minded fat cats. After earning his MBA from the University of Chicago, Corzine joined Goldman Sachs in 1975 as a bond trader, then worked his way up to chairman and CEO. He left the investment firm in 1999, after overseeing its initial public offering. Now spends his days blasting excessive corporate pay packages.

8. Herb Kohl (Dem.), Senator, Wisconsin -- Net Worth: $250 Million.
The Harvard Business School grad made a fortune by selling Kohl's, his family's grocery and department store business, to tobacco interests in 1979. Six years later, Kohl again struck gold, buying the Milwaukee Bucks for a paltry $19 million: Minus debt, Kohl's stake in the team is now worth about $130 million. The soft-spoken Democrat, elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988, donated $25 million to the University of Wisconsin for a new sports arena seven years ago.

9. Jay Rockefeller (Dem.), Senator, West Virginia -- Net Worth: $200 Million.
Rockefellers usually spend their lives either trying to augment the wealth created by patriarch John D., or trying to use it to improve the world. The 67-year-old junior senator of West Virginia chose the latter path, but along with relative Winthrop, remains among America's richest politicians.

After graduating from Harvard, Rockefeller went to West Virginia in 1964 to do volunteer work in a small mining town. He decided to stay, running for the state's House of Delegates two years later.

10. Mark R. Warner (Dem.), Governor, Virginia -- Net Worth: $200 Million.
Politics helped propel Mark Warner to wealth, and wealth helped make him a rising political star. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1980, he learned of the potential size of the mobile-phone market through a political contact. Warner began snatching cell-phone licenses and later sold them for huge profit. The Democrat has leveraged his $200 million net worth to further his political agenda, donating millions to local charities and establishing venture capital funds in Virginia's poorer regions.



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