Being Elected To Congress Continues To Be A Pretty Good Wealth Maximization Strategy

In these volatile times it helps to have role models to steer you through economic uncertainty, wise investors who you can look to when your faith in markets is shattered. And that sort of wisdom is hard to find right now, what with John Paulson continuing to trip over his own feet and George Soros closing up shop / apparently not having the resources to house all of his girlfriends in the manner to which they are accustomed. Fortunately, Roll Call today brings us a new list of investors for you to emulate: the 50 richest members of Congress.

Would you believe that millionaires who are able to direct stimulus funds to their own companies and unconstrained by insider trading laws had a pretty good year in 2010? Then you would be correct. Our 50 richest members of Congress had an average net worth of $32mm, and saw a weighted average growth in their net worth of 17.7% (unweighted 26%).* The S&P was up 12.8%.

Not bad - but if you want to learn from the greats, and not just also-rans, you can break that down a little further. At first glance, it would seem that House Republicans are particularly killing it: almost half of the total top-50 net worth ($792mm) is held by the 22 House Republicans, with an average net worth of $36mm. And their returns are striking - a 41% average return vs. under 5% in the Senate.

But in fact those returns come entirely from the top 2 names on the list, and they each come with an asterisk. Darrell Issa and Michael McCaul accounted for over 100% of the House Republicans' gains in 2010, and it wasn't just from savvy market timing: McCaul seems to have grown his stash via a big transfer from his in-laws, while Issa got his in part by hosing minority shareholders in his electronics company. Excluding those two, the House Republicans were down some 4%. You might do better to invest with the Democrats, of whom over 80% were up in 2010, led by Nancy Pelosi's 62% returns.

Sadly this data goes only through the end of 2010 so we don't know who's making money in today's markets. One good guess would be Ron Paul, who didn't make the top-50 cutoff (with single-digit-millions net worth) but who's pleasingly ideologically consistent, with a portfolio consisting pretty much entirely of shares of gold miners. Weirdly no physical metal is reported. We'd be heartbroken if we believed that Ron Paul wasn't hoarding gold ingots in his basement, so we're going to chalk that up to a view that gold is not a discloseable "asset held for investment" but just money.

* There are lots of disclaimers to this data - the reports group asset and liability amounts in broad buckets so these numbers are approximate and overestimate changes; they're valued as of the end of 2010 so some portfolios may be down since then; there's no change in net worth reported for the 13 newly elected members who didn't file 2009 forms; and there's a selection problem where negative returns that bounce you out of the top 50 don't get counted.

McCaul Leaps to Top of 50 Richest Members of Congress [Roll Call]