The following is a guest post from FS reader, Kameron Snow. He is a professional copywriter specializing in the art of the political. Businesses with a taste for victory come to him to hone their messaging, strategy, and copy. He can be found at kameronsnow.com, blogging about the nexus of marketing, politics, and copywriting. If he’s not there, he’s at a brewery. Just leave a note.
This election cycle is particularly interesting because we have a diverse crop of candidates with even more diverse financial backgrounds. It’s not just Trump that makes a dive into each candidate’s income streams attractive, although he’s the obvious starting point. Some of the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat, challenge our notions of what a president’s personal finances should look like.
Let’s look at five leading candidates and analyze their net worth, where their income originates, how much passive income they have and any other business or financial ventures they’re involved in. We will use the Real Clear Politics’ (RCP) average of current poll numbers to come up with our list of candidates in order of popularity. Starting with Republicans, first up is…
Donald Trump (R)
Ah yes, The Donald. His RCP average has held steady at around 35%, so he’s the clear frontrunner on the Republican side after the New Hampshire primary win. Ah, the classic American tale of the millionaire-turned-billionaire-turned-Presidential frontrunner! Regardless of how you feel about the Trumpinator, the fact is that he is probably the richest person to ever run for our nation’s highest office.
Some have speculated that his support has come in part from tapping into voter resentment about candidates catering to special interests. As Trump himself proudly proclaims, he can’t be bought because he’s a billionaire. So how much is the Trump Card actually worth? According to Forbes magazine, he’s worth around $4.5 billion. Bloomberg reports a figure of roughly $2.9 billion and Trump himself has gone on the record saying he’s worth more like $10 billion.
Of course, The Donald does have a powerful brand, which he has parlayed into incredible riches. He built his wealth by some very smart real estate investments early in his career (using his $40- $200 million inheritance from his father, Fred Trump, who died in 1999 with an estimated net wealth between $250 million and $450 million), and then used leverage to buy up a lot of different businesses that were all branded Trump.
It’s safe to say that Trump has a lot of passive income streams, ranging from his real estate holdings to his pageants to his entertainment holdings. As for equities, Trump is heavily invested in Baron mutual funds, and a smattering of other security packages.
Whether or not he’s a good candidate or good for the country, it’s pretty undeniable that Trump has exceptional marketing acumen. His company has dealt with bankruptcy four times, and yet is still a billionaire. Now that’s a great example of taking advantage of unfair situations. He may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he turned that silver spoon into a golden spatula.
Ted Cruz (R)
If we are ranking candidates in order of estimated net worth, Cruz would be far behind other GOP candidates such as Bush or Kasich. However, Cruz’s RCP average has risen to the 20% range.
Forbes reports that Mr. Cruz is worth approximately $3.5 million. Cruz cobbled together this small fortune through his work as a lawyer in conjunction with various jobs in politics. He actually worked on George Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign as a policy advisor. He won election as Texas Solicitor General in 2003 before returning to private practice.
According to public filings from last July, much of Ted’s money is tied up in oil and gas stocks, such as Chevron and Exxon Mobile. Of course, Chevron was at a high of $135 last July and it currently trades at around $80, so Ted’s financial situation may be a little lower now. He also has a significant chunk of his money in mutual funds.
Forbes nicely summarizes their net worth blurb on Cruz: “Tea Partier practiced law; wife works at Goldman Sachs.” Sam note: If the wife is a partner at Goldman, I seriously doubt their net worth is only $3.5 million.
Marco Rubio (R)
There are only three candidates running for president, Democrat or Republican, that have a net worth of under $1 million. Marco Rubio is one of them and is actually 2nd to last in the grand rankings of income profiles for the candidates (surpassing only Martin O’Malley (D) with a net worth of $0 because of student debt for his kids).
Rubio’s personal finances have come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, including mismanagement of campaign and personal cash as well as dealing with a foreclosure on a second home. The validity of that criticism is beyond the scope of this article, but it’s worth noting.
His net worth is estimated by Forbes to be around $100,000. He has some personal and student debt as well that weighs down his net worth calculation. When he decided to run for president, he liquidated a retirement account and cashed out $68,000. (Related: Only A Petulant Fool Would Borrow From His 401k)
In both financial and political terms, Rubio’s run is a little more committed than some of the other candidates because he is not running for Senate again if he doesn’t win the presidency. Meaning, he’s out of a job in November if he’s not president. And while he’ll have no problem finding a good paying job after running for president, the potential financial insecurity is probably a bit of a motivator.
Hillary Clinton (D)
Finally, we get to the Democrats! Well, for a while there it didn’t look like there would be much of a race on the Democratic side, but recently Uncle Bernie has surged with his win in New Hampshire. Do you “feel the Bern?” RealClearPolitics most recently had Clinton at 49% and Bernie at 36%, whereas Clinton has seen her poll numbers as high as 64%.
Clinton has made waves in the past for announcing that she and Bill were basically broke after leaving the White House, and according to Forbes, that’s not too far from the truth. Faced with approximately $1.8 million in assets and more than $2 million in liabilities, the Clintons had a negative net worth. Shocking, I know.
However, fast forward a decade, and Hillary is sitting on a comfortable $45 million, at least (although USA Today contends it could be as low as $15 million). Of course, there is the small detail of where the rest of her money went, since it’s estimated that she and Bill have earned $153 million in speaking fees alone since 2001!
Hillary’s investments are limited to a single Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFINX), according to Chuck Jaffe at MarketWatch, who went through her 20-page financial disclosure statement (vs 92-pages for Trump. The simplicity in her investment choice is likely influenced by the level of scrutiny she faces as a public figure. That said, an estimated $7.7 million out of Bill and Hillary’s $153 million in speaking income came from big banks.
Bernie Sanders (D)
Bernie, winner of the New Hampshire primary, posits himself as the anti-millionaire, the ultra-progressive populist superstar who will take on Wall Street and restore balance to the Force. Considering how much he talks about the 1%, it’s interesting to take a peek into his finances and see what he considers to be an acceptable amount of private wealth. Politico reports:
According to [public financial disclosure forms], Sanders and his wife Jane reported between $194,026-$741,030 in assets, a broad combination of investment funds…
Sanders… has no listed assets on his entire financial disclosure form, save for a municipal pension — all the assets provided in the form are listed in his wife’s name. He reported no trusts or stock of any kind.
This is consistent with the findings by Forbes who reported that his net worth was around $700,000. Bernie has spent almost his entire career in politics, and has clearly managed to save some coin along the way. His wife has held a few government jobs as well, though nothing on the Federal level. Considering his take on business as usual at Wall Street, it’s no wonder that he has no significant investments in equities or other securities.
Everyone Better Off Than Average
Luckily for most of us, we’re never going to have to open up our financial lives to the world for endless scrutiny. Politicians are generally wealthier than the median or average person with the median net worth of Congress members slightly over $1 million.
Congratulations to Donald Trump for winning the most improbably victory ever.
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Updated for 2018 and beyond. Trump is president and isn’t doing very well.