PolitiFact: Sanders 'poorer member' of US Senate

Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 14:30:36-04

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders relishes his every man persona, and during the Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn, he offered evidence that he’s out of place in the "millionaires’ club" that is the U.S. Senate.

"I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate," Sanders said.

Is that correct?

We looked at the most frequently cited rundown of congressional wealth -- an annual study by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

We found that Sanders’ net worth does rank him in the bottom one-fifth of the 100-member chamber. Here’s a list showing Sanders and the 18 other senators whose net worth ranked below him for the 2014 calendar year. A negative value means liabilities greater than assets.:


Senate net worth rank Senator Minimum net worth
82 Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. 160000
83 Mike Lee, R-Utah 120000
84 Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. 120000
85 Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 90000
86 John Thune, R-S.D. 80000
87 James Lankford, R-Okla. -10000
88 Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. -50000
89 Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. -80000
90 Cory Gardner, R-Colo. -110000
91 Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. -140000
92 Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -160000
93 Jack Reed, D-R.I. -170000
94 John Cornyn, R-Texas -230000
95 Mark Kirk, R-Ill. -260000
96 Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. -350000
97 Roger Wicker, R-Miss. -450000
98 Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii -460000
99 Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. -590000
100 Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. -720000

We should note some caveats.

The Roll Call survey is based on congressional financial disclosure forms, which offer the public only broad ranges of income in various categories. To determine the measurement it used in its ranking -- minimum net worth -- Roll Call used the total minimum reported value of the lawmakers’ assets minus the total minimum reported value of their liabilities. So the real amount could well be higher.

In addition, the law exempts various types of holdings from disclosure, including the value of a primary residence, the value of personal possessions that aren’t held for investment purposes, and the value of retirement accounts. (The Center for Responsive Politics has a summary of what must be included in these forms here.)

These factors led Roll Call to caution in its survey that "the disclosure forms are imperfect at best." Indeed, the data is vague enough that the differences between the net worths of the senators who cluster around Sanders verge on being indistinguishable.

In fact, 10 other senators beyond the list of 18 above had a minimum net worth of less than $400,000 -- Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.; and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

That said, Sanders is largely correct that he’s on the lower end of the chamber’s income scale: The median senator, by Roll Call’s calculation, was $1.1 million, or almost seven times Sanders’ net worth.

Our ruling

Sanders said, "I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate."

It’s important to remember that the financial-disclosure forms produce values too vague to be 100 percent certain of where each senator ranks in net worth. And with a minimum net worth of $160,000, we wouldn’t say Sanders is poor. That said, a credible calculation using financial disclosure forms put Sanders as having the 19th lowest net worth in the Senate. We rate the statement Mostly True.