Romney would be among richest presidents

2012-01-28 22:44

Washington - Just how rich is Mitt Romney? Add up the wealth of the last eight presidents, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. Then double that number. Now you're in Romney territory.

He would be among the richest presidents in American history if elected - probably in the top four.

He couldn't top George Washington who, with nearly 24 000ha and more than 300 slaves, is considered the big daddy of presidential wealth.

After that, it gets complicated, depending on how you rate Thomas Jefferson's plantation, Herbert Hoover's millions from mining or John F Kennedy's share of the vast family fortune, as well as the finer points of factors like inflation adjustment.

But it's safe to say the Roosevelts had nothing on Romney, and the Bushes are nowhere close.

The former Massachusetts governor has disclosed only the broad outlines of his wealth, putting it somewhere from $190m to $250m.

That easily could make him 50 times richer than Obama, who falls in the still-impressive-to-most-of-us range of $2.2m to $7.5m.

"I think it's almost hard to conceptualise what $250m means," said Shamus Khan, a Columbia University sociologist who studies the wealthy.

"People say Romney made $50 000 a day while not working last year. What do you do with all that money? I can't even imagine spending it. Well, maybe ..."

So here's a look where Romney's riches rank - among the most flush Americans, the White House contenders, and the average American:

Top 1%:

"Romney is small potatoes compared with the ultra-wealthy," said Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies the nation's elites.

After all, even in the rarefied world of the top 1%, there's a big difference between life at the top and at the bottom.

A household needs to bring in roughly $400 000 per year to make the cut.

Romney, who headed the private equity firm Bain Capital, and his wife, Ann, have been making 50 times that - more than $20m a year.

In 2009, only 8 274 federal tax filers had income above $10m. Romney is solidly within that elite 0.006% of all US taxpayers.

Congress is flush with millionaires.

Further up the ladder, top hedge fund managers can pocket $1bn or more in a single year.

At the top of the wealth pile sits Microsoft founder Bill Gates, worth $59bn, according to Forbes magazine's estimates.

As a potential president:

Romney clearly stands out here. America's super rich generally don't jockey to live in the White House.

A few have toyed with the idea, most notably New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom Forbes ranks as the 12th richest American, worth $19.5bn. A lesser billionaire, Ross Perot, bankrolled his own third-party campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

Many presidents weren't particularly well-off, especially 19th century leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, James Buchanan and Ulysses S Grant. Nor was the 33rd president, Harry Truman.

"These things ebb and flow," said sociologist Khan. "It's not the case that all presidents were always rich."

A few former chief executives died in debt, including Thomas Jefferson, ranked in a Forbes study as the third-wealthiest president.

Comparing the landlocked wealth of early Americans such as Washington, Jefferson and James Madison, with today's millionaires is tricky, even setting aside the lack of documentation and economic changes over two centuries.

Research by 24/7 Wall St, a news and analysis website, estimated Washington's wealth at the equivalent of $525m in 2010 dollars.

Yet Washington had to borrow money to pay for his trip to New York for his inauguration in 1789, according to Dennis Pogue, vice president for preservation at Mount Vernon, Washington's Virginia estate. His money was tied up in land, reaping only a modest cash income after farm expenses.

"He was a wealthy guy, there's no doubt about it," Pogue said, and probably among the dozen richest Virginians of his time. But, "the wealthiest person in America then was nothing in comparison to what these folks are today".

Average American:

How does Romney stand next to the average American?

He's roughly 1 800 times richer.

The typical US household was worth $120 300 in 2007, according to the Census Bureau's most recent data, although that number is sure to have dropped since the recession. A typical family's income is $50 000.

Calculations from 24/7 Wall St of the peak lifetime wealth (or peak so far) of Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Obama add up to a total $118m - while Romney reports assets of up to $250m.

If you consider only those presidents' assets while in office, without millions earned later from speeches and books, their combined total would be substantially lower, and Romney's riches would leave the pack even further behind.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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