How NH’s millionaire politicians try to relate to everyday constituents

  • Protestors and supporters lined the hallways of the State House as U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan signed up to run for re-election.

  • U.S. Representative Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) visited Peterborough to discuss federal grants for the town's water main project on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • FILE— Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., attends a groundbreaking ceremony for a 1.7 billion dry dock project at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Kittery, Maine. Pappas, a Democrat, has announced his reelection campaign for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District Friday Dec. 3, 2021 and the start of a 14-community road trip across the state this weekend. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at a Cops for Trump rally in Portsmouth, N.H. Sununu is seeking his party's nomination in the Tuesday, Sept. 8, primary to run for re-election in November. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., second from right, joined by, from left, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 16, 2017, to discuss opioid addiction. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite

Monitor staff
Published: 10/1/2022 12:16:28 PM

Politicians deflecting their personal finances in hope of presenting a sense of relatability with voters is nothing new.

It dates back to the 1800s, with William Henry Harrison’s presidential campaign in 1840, according to Andy Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Harrison, who was born into wealth in Virginia, centered his campaign brand around log cabins and cider to appear in step with the “common man” in the United States at the time.

Masking his own finances, he campaigned around the image of being in step with a working class voter base.

“You see candidates wanting to prove their blue collar bona fides to show that they can relate to the people that they hope to represent, hope to get votes from,” said Smith. “It’s an interesting dance.”

Today, many politicians follow suit.

With Maggie Hassan, Ann Kuster and Chris Pappas up for reelection, all three campaigns boast messages of cutting costs for Granite Staters. Inflation is at a record high, and concerns of rising prices from gas to home heating make the economy top of mind for many voters, said Smith.

Figuring out the exact amount of wealth of elected officials is tricky, but OpenSecrets – the non-profit research group that tracks money in politics – estimates the net worth of members of Congress.

All four members of the New Hampshire delegation are estimated to be millionaires, according to OpenSecrets data.

Hassan’s net worth is the highest, at median of $4,602,458. Next follows, Senator Jeanne Shaheen at $3,920,105.

U.S. Representatives Kuster and Pappas fall at $1,992,038 and $3,347,512, respectively.

Similarly, the state’s top Republican, Gov. Chris Sununu has an estimated net worth of about $2 million, according to numerous sources. OpenSecrets does not estimate the net worth of the nations governors.

For comparison, the median net worth of those in the top 10 percentile of wealth in the United States was $1,589,300 in 2019.

Even with imperfect estimates, it comfortably puts all four delegates in the upper echelon.

By May 15 of each year, federal politicians must file a disclosure form that details their personal finances in the last calendar year. They are required to list their assets, liabilities, salaries, gifts and other transactions.

Yet these requirements come with caveats. Salaries are required but can exclude government pay. This means that elected officials do not need to disclose the $174,000 (or more) most congressional members are paid.

They also do not have to disclose property values, unless they are a source of income. This typically excludes primary residences.

With the items that are disclosed as either assets or liabilities, they are done so in a range. This means that it is hard to estimate the exact net worth of a congressional member, but instead OpenSecrets can calculate a minimum and maximum net worth estimate based on these ranges and suggest a median point.

In 2018, OpenSecrets released a report tracking the net worth of all members of Congress, which provided the ability to rank congressional assets and identify who were the most wealthy elected officials.

While the New Hampshire delegation fell at the middle of the pack – Hassan and Shaheen ranked 35th and 36th, respectively, in the Senate, with Kuster at 112th in the House – their finances put them well above most of their constituents. (Pappas was not in office at the time).

In 2018, at the time of the report, about 1% of Americans were millionaires, according to OpenSecrets. Within Congress that stretches to 40% to 50% of members.

“Upfront, it is really a question about representation,” said Alex Baumgart, a reporter for OpenSecrets.

“More than half of members of Congress are millionaires, and obviously you cannot say the same thing about the general American population.”

Although there is a history of wealth in politics – since the early days of holding office provided little pay, it catered to candidates who could self-fund campaigns and hold office without much income – it still is intact with political parties recruiting wealthy candidate, Smith said.

“They’ve got the money to do it, they got the time to do it, they’ve got the experience and connections,” he said.

Despite their combined wealth, members of the New Hampshire delegation highlighted their policy efforts to lower costs for their constituents.

On the campaign trail, Hassan is pushing to suspend the gas tax for the rest of the year and recently helped pass legislation that reduced prescription drug costs, said Laura Epstein, a spokesperson for the senator.

While not up for election this cycle, Shaheen’s staff said she is working to help the lives of New Hampshire residents.

“Today, in this time of economic uncertainty and unprecedented national security challenges, she remains focused on lowering costs, protecting the rights of Americans and keeping our country safe,” said Cassia Burns, a spokesperson for Shaheen.

This week, Kuster helped secure an additional $4 million in federal funds for home heating costs, noted Jen Fox, the communications director and senior advisor for the congresswoman.

Pappas was also involved in requesting these funds.

“As a small business owner, Congressman Pappas is focused on advocating for New Hampshire families, workers, and small businesses in Congress,” said Kristen Morris, a spokesperson for Pappas. “He will continue to fight for additional action to lower costs for Granite Staters.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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