There is just too much money involved in American politics. The idea that anyone can grow up to be President has been abandoned by all but the most naïve. The most successful politicians aren’t known for their negotiating skills, oratory or leadership credentials. They know how to raise money, and I’m talking about millions and millions of dollars. Office holders, on the national level at least, spend more to campaign for office and, once elected, to keep the treasure trove growing for the next election. And not just for themselves but for their political party.
The recent news that members of Congress spend the greater part of each legislative work week “dialing for dollars”— raising money for themselves and their party— was another major disappointment in a very depressing election year. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican in Congress, your first allegiance is getting re-elected and that requires lots and lots of dollars.
It has always been a mystery to me why a system works when it requires people seeking election to the higher offices to spend many times what they will earn if they land the job. Much of it is other people’s money— people who expect something in return— so the candidate is going to pay one way or another.
Rank-and-file members of Congress make $174,000 a year— and there have been no raises for going on seven years now. The Speaker of the House makes $223,500— the highest salary in both the Senate and House. It’s true that comparable upper and mid-management jobs in the private sector command considerably more. But a seasoned legislator — say the soon-to-be retired former Speaker of the House John Boehner— can make seven figures after public service as a lobbyist or a high-profile corporate executive.
Members of Congress do pay into Social Security and collect its bennies and have for more than 30 years. You are eligible for a pension after five years in the Senate or House, and, as with Social Security, you have to pay into it to get something out. Boehner, who will be 66 in November when his successor is elected, will be drawing an annual pension of $86,000, plus whatever he will get from Social Security, and he didn’t enter Congress until 1991.
It’s not Donald Trump wealthy, but more than a comfortable living if he takes that lobbyist job. Senators and Congressman receive retirement and health benefits like other federal employees. They often maintain private-sector jobs while in office, and many do, though there are strict limitations on what they can make on the side. There are no limitations on their investments or how much they receive in corporate dividends and profits.
There are allowances for personal, mailing and office expenses, with the latter including renting office space in D.C. and back in the home district. The average of these allowances, known as MRAs in the House, was over $1.35 million in 2012., according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). There is a similar allowance, or expense account, in the Senate, and the average there was over $3.2 million for the Fiscal Year 2013. Then there are tax breaks for housing costs while out of their districts.
They do get plenty of time off from the governing part, The House is only in session 110 days this year, which would equal about 22 business (five-day) weeks, including a long summer break from July 15 until Sept. 6. The Senate is in session a few days more.
They are only doing the actual business of governing about four hours each of those days (based on recent revelations about fundraising)— and that’s one of the more generous estimates— which is half a business day, shaving the actual number of legislative days down to 55. The other part of the legislator’s job is constituent service— taking care of the folks back home— and that’s what they are supposedly devoting their time to during those other 30 business weeks. To be fair, members do work when they are out of session. Dedicated legislators are active in their districts, meeting with and serving constituents in their home offices, holding town meetings and attending community events throughout their district.
By the way, the salary of the Vice President is $233,000 with free housing and other allowances. Then there is the most sought-after position of all— the President of the United States who hasn’t had a raise since George W. Bush got one in 2001. It has stayed at $400,000 for 15 years and comes with a very attractive house in a historic district. The job includes an annual expense account of $50,000, $100,000 for nontaxable travel expenses and $19,000 for entertaining.
According to CNBC, the average pay package (total compensation) based on the 200 highest paid U.S. CEOs in 2014 was about $22.6 million.
That makes the American President the most underpaid high-level executive in America. It does promise a bright financial future. President Bill Clinton made just $200,000 a year. His net worth today is $80 million.
In 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney combined to spend $2.6 billion as the major party nominees for President, reports Investopedia, and most experts expect that amount to at least triple by election day this year.
If Donald Trump had continued to self-fund his campaign, which is no longer the case, he could have very well exhausted the $4.5 billion he is allegedly worth. It’s getting so even a billionaire can’t afford to run for President. Something is very wrong here.