By the Numbers: Getting to Know Your Members of Congress Print
Commentary/Politics - National Politics
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 26 April 2012 06:00

Most people know that there’s a wealth of information available online about members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. But while it’s not hidden, it’s often scattered among several Web sites, and it’s hard to make head-to-head comparisons without a lot of clicking and note-taking.

Here is our attempt to bring some of the available data together in one place for members of Congress representing the Quad Cities. We include Representative Bruce Braley (a Democrat who currently represents Scott County in the House), Representative Dave Loebsack (a Democrat whose redrawn district will include Scott County beginning next year), Representative Bobby Schilling (a Republican representing the Illinois Quad Cities), and four U.S. Senators: Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). All the information was drawn from four Web sites: OpenSecrets.org, Legistorm.com, GovTrack.us, and VoteSmart.org.

Beyond the basics – their ages and professions, how long they’ve been in office, and when their terms end – we include information on committee assignments and leadership, how many roll-call votes they’ve missed, personal net worth and investments, earmarks (and earmarks that went to campaign contributors), aggregate staff compensation, top-paid staffers, how campaign contributions break down from individuals and political action committees (PACs), whether they completed Project Vote Smart’s survey of candidates, and assessments from various interest groups.

Note that these charts just scratch the surface. For instance, Legistorm.com includes not just salaries but the personal financial disclosures of each member of Congress and staff member. Durbin, for example, lists residences in Springfield (worth $250,000) and Chicago ($283,000) ... and a 1996 Ford truck with an estimated value of $2,500. David Edmund Young, chief of staff for Grassley, owns rental properties in the Washington, D.C., area valued at $500,000 to $1 million and $1 million to $5 million, and he owns stock in Casey’s General Stores, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America.

OpenSecrets.org allows you to see individual earmarks, and those that went to campaign contributors. GovTrack.us lets you look at members’ legislative histories – the bills they sponsored and what happened to them. And VoteSmart.org features interest-group ratings and policy positions in a wide variety of areas, and it also tracks key votes and public statements.

Certain stereotypes of Congress hold true with the Quad Cities delegation. They’re all white men. Three of the four senators are at least 67 years old, and among all seven elected officials, only Schilling is south of 52. Durbin, Harkin, and Grassley are career politicians, having served continually in Congress for at least 29 years apiece. Four of the seven are attorneys.

Are they wealthy? Certainly not by congressional standards. Only Harkin, with a net worth between $10 million and $23 million, ranks in his chamber’s top 40 percent. Senators Durbin and Kirk and Representatives Loebsack and Braley sit in their chambers’ bottom halves. (That’s a fairly high bar, however. Outside of Kirk, all of these members of Congress have net worths higher than the American median for their age groups.)

From the earmark information, it’s obvious that our members of Congress – particularly Grassley and Harkin – are pretty good at bringing home the bacon ... or, from a different perspective, loading the federal budget with dubious pork. (Note that the Fiscal Year 2009 earmarks for the Iowa delegation are abnormally high, a result of federal spending for disaster aid stemming from flooding.)

We plan to revisit this information annually, so if there’s something that’s not here that you’d like to see included, please e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Click on any chart below for a larger version.


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