S.C. congressmen's net worth rank lower than many colleagues

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Henry Brown, a Hanahan Republican in his seventh year in Congress, doesn't feel like a multimillionaire.

Ask Brown how much he's worth, and he draws a blank.

"I have no notion," Brown said. "It doesn't really matter much to me. I never used wealth as a benchmark for my friendships. Money's not a big thing to me. A lot of my friends are people I went to high school with. Most of them aren't wealthy."

Brown's net worth is $5.8 million, putting him at No. 2 in South Carolina's congressional delegation behind Rep. John Spratt, who's worth about twice that much.

Though Brown worked as a Piggly Wiggly executive before coming to Washington, much of his wealth is tied up in 1,500 acres of Berkeley County land hard up against Francis Marion National Forest.

Brown doesn't intend to sell the land, so its monetary value means little to him.

"We're just average people," Brown said. "We worked hard all our lives. We've been very blessed in some areas, I guess."

It would be a stretch to call any of South Carolina's eight U.S. lawmakers poor, what with their $165,200 annual salary and tens of thousands of dollars in extra income from stock dividends, home or business rentals and their wives' jobs.

But a probe of their annual financial disclosure reports, and interviews with seven lawmakers (only Rep. James Clyburn declined to discuss his personal finances), reveals that most are men of modest means in comparison with many of their peers from other states.

In neighboring Georgia, for instance, 10 of the 14 congressional members are millionaires -- half of them many times over. With $23.5 million in net worth, the Georgia leader, Rep. John Linder, is twice as wealthy as Spratt.

Only Spratt, Brown and Rep. Gresham Barrett of South Carolina are millionaires. Barrett, a Westminister Republican in his third term, barely makes the grade at $1.3 million.

Barrett says he would be wealthier by now if he'd pursued his father's furniture and real estate businesses, but he has no regrets.

"The private sector certainly would have offered much more opportunities than the government sector," Barrett said. "Not to sound corny, but I feel like this is where the Lord wants me right now."

The combined personal wealth of the entire South Carolina delegation -- $21.4 million -- is scarcely one-third the worth of Rep. Robin Hayes alone. The North Carolina Republican and textile heir is worth $61.9 million, good for No. 3 in the House of Representatives.

"It's basically irrelevant to what I do," Spratt, a York Democrat in his 13th term, said of his $11.5 million in net worth. "It doesn't affect the way I vote or how I approach my colleagues and my constituents. It gives my family some financial security, which makes it easier to serve in public office."

Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, Spratt noted, were wealthy men who did much to help poor Americans.

At the other end of the delegation's economic ladder is Sen. Jim DeMint, a first-term Republican. His Greenville home makes up most of his $255,000 net worth.

Only four senators -- and no other Palmetto State lawmaker -- are worth less than DeMint.

"It just shows that a middle-class guy can get elected to the Senate," DeMint said. "I'm happy with my lot in life."