News & Politics

Opening the Fat Wallets in Obama’s Cabinet

How does Obama's team stack up in terms of wealth?

See earlier: Who Are the Wealthiest Members of the Obama Administration? 

With the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, it appears President Obama’s Cabinet is complete. How does the team stack up in terms of wealth? Here’s what financial-disclosure forms show; net worth is given in broad categories on disclosure forms.

1. Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of State: assets of at least $7,244,000, though they could be as much as $35,660,000.

Not only is Clinton the best-known Cabinet chief; she’s also the wealthiest. Although her campaign for the Democratic nomination might have cost her, she needn’t clip coupons. She won’t be homeless, either: Cabinet officials don’t have to declare homes that they own and use privately, but property records show that she and her husband own two houses, in DC and New York, each valued at more than $1 million.

2. Eric Holder, attorney general: assets of $4,557,000 to $18,430,000.

Holder is one of many Cabinet members who left lucrative private-sector jobs to work for the government. He made $3.3 million last year as a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling as well as a severance payment of $1 million to $5 million. His take-home pay as attorney general? Only $196,700.

3. Robert Gates, secretary of Defense: assets of $3,729,000 to $11,760,000 in 2006.

The only holdover from the Bush administration matches up well against his new colleagues, thanks mostly to directorships on corporate boards after his days in the CIA. As president of Texas A&M, Gates reported a salary of $752,788 in 2006 as well as speaker fees totaling $143,000, director fees of more than $300,000, and almost $400,000 as lead independent director of Fidelity Investments.

4. Steven Chu, secretary of Energy: assets of $3,459,000 to $7,810,000.

Nobel Prizes pay well, scientific patents not so much. The bulk of Chu’s earnings in 2008 came from the University of California, which paid him $411,552 as a professor of physics. Chu made an additional $60,000 from board fees and lectures and $3,729 from royalties on some of his patents.

5. Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs: assets of $1,612,000 to $4,605,000.

A jack-of-all-trades, the retired Army general worked as a corporate director, adviser, and consultant in 2008, earning more than $500,000. Boeing paid him $108,000 in consulting fees, and his directorship with Guardian Life Insurance earned him $117,664. Shinseki has a residential property in Honolulu that earns him between $15,000 and $50,000 a year in rent. Would he rent it to the President for winter vacations?

6. Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development: assets of $1,519,000 to $6,110,000.

As head of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Donovan reported income of $346,169 for 2007 and 2008 combined. The bulk of his assets is kept in trust, which contains between $1 million and $5 million in shares of Donovan Data Systems, advertising-industry software for data processing.

7. Gary Locke, secretary of Commerce: assets of $1,496,000 to $5,415,000.

The first Chinese American secretary of Commerce is all about diversifying his stock portfolio.  Locke invests small amounts up to $15,000 in more than 180 companies.  Though his choices run the gamut, the former Governor of Washington state favors hometown brands Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, and with heftier sums.  Locke raked in $1,256,000 in 2008, thanks in part to a more than half-million dollar law firm salary and a near-equivalent stock cashout.

8. Arne Duncan, secretary of Education: assets of $1,364,000 to $3,210,000.

Who says public schools don’t give you a good start? Duncan was paid $212,502 in 2008 as superintendent of Chicago’s public-school system. Education is clearly on his mind—the Harvard grad and father of two has between $150,000 and $350,000 in a Bright Start college-savings plan.

9. Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior: assets of $1,269,00 to $1,610,000.

The former senator from Colorado didn’t declare stock ownership; most of his assets are in property. Family ranchland in Conejos County, Colorado, is worth between $250,000 and $500,000, while commercial real estate owned by his wife is valued at more than a million dollars.

10. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services: assets of $1,209,000 to $5,660,000.

Sebelius addressed tax troubles exposed during the confirmation process by forking over some $8,000 in back taxes–just pennies compared to predecessor Daschle's faux pas.  For that matter, Sebelius raked in only $125,451 as Governor of Kansas in 2008. Expect to see Sebelius and her family escape the humid Washington summers for the waterfront town of Leland, Michigan, where she owns a summer home worth more than a million dollars.

11. Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury: assets of $785,000 to $1,875,000.

For all the debate over his unpaid taxes, Geithner is hardly raking in the dollars: Despite earning $411,200 in 2008 as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, along with a severance payment of $434,668, Geithner is not one of the wealthiest men to head the Treasury. His predecessor Henry Paulson was worth about $500 million when he left a lengthy career at Goldman Sachs. Geithner does own shares worth $250,000 to $500,000 in some Cape Cod real estate.

12. Tom Vilsack, secretary of Agriculture: assets of $724,000 to $1,760,000.

The former governor of Iowa owns farmland in that state’s Davis County that’s worth between $500,000 and $1 million. He rents it out for $15,000 to $50,000 a year; in 2008, the USDA conservation-reserve program paid him $7,552 to leave it unfarmed. Last year, Vilsack made $300,000 at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney in Des Moines as well as a consulting fee of $100,000 from MidAmerican Energy, among other jobs including teaching and speaking.

13. Hilda Solis, secretary of Labor: assets of $346,000 to $765,000.

Proving that a career in politics may not be the most financially rewarding, Solis has between $250,000 and $500,000 in a Wells Fargo checking-and-savings account, while her husband’s business, Sam’s Foreign & Domestic Auto Center in Irwindale, California, is declared to be worth $50,000 to $100,000.

14. Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security: assets of $186,000 to $740,000.

Napolitano reported annual income of $95,000 as governor of Arizona. In addition to a stock portfolio and a pension with the state of Arizona, she has an art collection worth $15,000 to $50,000.

15. Ray LaHood, secretary of Transportation: assets of $85,000 to $400,000.

Former schoolteacher LaHood is “the other Republican,” after Gates, in the Cabinet. He’s known chiefly for presiding over the impeachment vote against Bill Clinton. When it comes to investments, his loyalties seem to be local—he has $1,000 to $15,000 invested in Caterpillar, the heavy-machinery manufacturer based in LaHood’s hometown of Peoria, Illinois. Too bad Caterpillar’s stock is down some 70 percent over the last year.

Related: Who Are the Wealthiest Members of the Obama Administration? 

This article first appeared in the April 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here. 

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