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They Feel Your Pain: Florida Legislature Home to 51 Millionaires

| July 14, 2011

Sen. John Thrasher, who represents Flagler County, is the sixth wealthiest member of the Florida Senate, with a net worth of $6.8 million. House Speaker Dean Cannon is not in his league. (Meredith Geddings)

Call it the Millionaire’s Club.

The Florida Legislature is home to more than 50 millionaires, according to a News Service of Florida analysis of financial disclosure forms. Lawmakers are required to report their income and net worth once a year.

The Legislature tends to attract wealthy individuals due, in part, to its heavy time commitment and low salary. Legislators receive $29,697 a year, with presiding officers making $41,181 a year. The Legislature meets once a year for two months for its regular session, but lawmakers are often called in for committee weeks or special sessions – and they also have to spend a lot of time campaigning and fundraising.

“It’s a difficult position if you are working a nine-to-five job to say ‘Hey, I’m going to give up my clients for four months,’ and then come back to that world for six months,” said Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, one of the wealthiest legislators. “Most people can’t do that.”

Millionaires make up almost half of the 40-member Florida Senate and nearly one-third of the 120-member Florida House. Fifty-one of the lawmakers that filed financial disclosure forms by the July 1 deadline were millionaires. Not all lawmakers filed a financial disclosure form by the deadline – more than 30 lawmakers failed to turn one in. They get a grace period before they’re penalized for being late.

The wealthiest legislator in the House is Brandes, with a net worth of $11.8 million at the end of 2010. His family sold its ownership of Cox Lumber Co. to Home Depot in 2006 for an undisclosed sum.

Brandes said he manages his family’s real estate investments in Florida and the Cayman Islands. The former military officer is also involved with his family’s new timber company venture called Tibbetts Lumber Co. Brandes had an income of $181,540 in 2010, money that mainly came from his investments.

“When you think about who could give up four or five months out of the year, (for) an employee it would be very difficult,” Brandes said. Many lawmakers have owned their own businesses or are retired.

“One of the blessings of my position is that I have opportunities to pursue my passions and things I am really interested in,” Brandes said. “I am fortunate to be able to do this more or less full time.”

In the Senate, Don Gaetz holds the distinction of being the richest senator. Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, was the founder of VITAS, a hospice care company, and has a net worth of nearly $25.5 million.

His assets included nearly $11.9 million in securities, nearly $10 million in real estate and about $3.2 million in cash. The real estate includes three homes in the upscale community of Seaside.

Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring, the Senate’s second-wealthiest member, helped build his $17.9 million net worth as an executive with the Internet company Yahoo. Among his assets are a $1.6 million home in Parkland.

Not everyone in the Legislature is wealthy. There are six lawmakers in the House with a negative net worth.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres has the distinction of having the lowest net worth in the Legislature. Caldwell is a real estate appraiser who purchased his home at the height of the housing boom.

He watched as the value of his $144,000 investment shrank to about $25,000 as hard-hit Lehigh Acres became the epicenter of the national housing bust.

“I tell people I’m nothing special, I’ve experienced the same types of challenges that many other people have gone through,” said Caldwell, whose net worth as of Dec. 31 was negative $125,000.

But Caldwell says he’s keeping it all in perspective. He turns 30 in August and he only loses money on his property if he sells, which he has no plans of doing anytime soon. “I consider myself fortunate,” Caldwell said. “I’ll have my house paid for by the time I’m 40 years old. That’s pretty good.”

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, reported a net income of negative $69,177. Pafford is in a similar situation to Caldwell and many other Floridians. He purchased his West Palm Beach home in 2003 for $124,900. It is now worth $92,100, but Pafford still owes $216,000 on the mortgage and home equity loans.

“The Legislature is a citizen’s legislature and should be made up that way,” Pafford said. “As much as I’m struggling, that is OK because there are a lot of other people doing the same thing, just working and trying to pay down bills. That is reality.” Pafford acknowledged, however, that the legislative system is not built to elect “average Floridians.”

Damien Filer, a spokesman for the progressive advocacy group Progress Florida, said the confluence of wealth and legislation is troubling. Likewise, lawmakers of overly modest means can also find themselves in compromising circumstances.

“There is an inherent danger anytime money and policymaking mix,” Filer said. “We have a system that is far too much a pay-to-play situation.”

–Lilly Rockwell and Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

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28 Responses for “They Feel Your Pain: Florida Legislature Home to 51 Millionaires”

  1. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    what exactly is the point of this article?

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Oy vey. Progressive Advocacy group.

    Progressism aka liberalism, leftism, communism, socialism, statism, Marxism, Maoism, collectivism, unionism … is what got into the deep doo we’re now experiencing and the funny part of it is that almost all the leaders of said movements are, wait for it, million or billionaires!

  3. ed says:

    If you don’t know the tilt, slant or how about hard left leanings of what is written on these pages you are not reading very closely.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Great eye opening editorial Pierre!
    Telling us who now controls our government in Florida and that is where we are now starting with education and public workers layoffs.

  5. Merrill says:

    The point is that our representatives are not exactly representative!

  6. Kyle Russell says:

    Progressivis =/= communist. Just because two things that are on the same “side” of the political spectrum aren’t necessarily the same thing, are they? And millionaires and billionaires arguing for progressive policies are, in my mind, better than those who argue for conservative policies of lower taxes for the rich. Why? Because the left-wing billionaires are arguing to increase their own taxes to help the needy, while the right-wingers are arguing for their own benefit.

  7. Yogi says:

    Funny how you suggest that rich people are unjust representatives. A real reporter would dig up the dirt. Why didn’t you dig up the dirt on these rich people? Why didn’t you do your job instead of perpetuating a smear campaign? If rich equals bad and poor equals good, then WHY is this so. Just putting quotes in your article from nefarious sources doesn’t add credibility to your work. Or could it be that you write in this style just to draw hits to your site? Never mind the public service? Who is using who?

  8. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Merrill says:
    July 14, 2011 at 11:26 am
    The point is that our representatives are not exactly representative!

    Beg your pardon, is there an elected body anywhere that is truly “representative” of the population? Do you think our system would benefit by a truly representative elected body? Why would we want unsuccessful people making decisions that effect our state? Should the prison population elect a fellow convict as their own State Representative? Should welfare recipients elect a fellow recipient as their own representative? Should the chronically unemployed elect their own representative?
    I dare speculate the point of the article was to stoke the fires of wealth envy, that continue to plague our country. After all, people don’t become wealthy from hard work, they become wealthy by cheating others, right? At least that’s what this article would have us believe.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Is not the article Johnny is, the bare reality.
    Fortunately and totally contradicting your statement ,Johnny, our population and Thank God for that, is made up in its great majority of good honest, hard working and compassionate people, that are candid enough to be convinced by the ones that want to control them, that they are not good enough or deserving of anything including respect. That most the rich nowadays have made their wealth by cheating (in Wall Street) is also a fact as well as that others make themselves rich like in Apple and other gadgets from slavery.
    Those majority of good honest hard working folks is what this editorial refers too as “representative population” Not the leaches thievering in Wall Street, like some bankers and hedge fund managers like John Paulson or robbing Medicare like Columbia aka Rick Scott and many others, I’ve seeing myself, profiteering like Developers from unpaid loans covered by our hard earned dollars via stimulus and hiden agendas.
    Don’t give us the story over and over that the rich create jobs and don’t steal. That when we give them tax breaks they create jobs, because is bull. This country have lost jobs without stop at least since the second Bush term and now the wealthy and the repulsikans boycott, is making it worst. Envy does not play here, is just simply the have’s and have not’s because the one’s that milked our taxes.
    What is taking place, is that too many crooks run for office now.

  10. Anita says:

    Couldn’t have said it better, palmcoaster. Bravo.

  11. Tom Brown says:

    Did News Service of Florida create a list showing everyone’s net worth? Would like to know how our local lawmakers rank. It also would be great to have a chart of the charitable contributions they claim on their taxes. That would help us judge whether the rich are carrying their fair share of the safety net which gov’t is abandoning.

  12. Hal (RSA) says:

    It’s a sad fact that it takes so much money to run for office and get oneself before the populace.

  13. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    The fact that palmcoaster believes all rich people are crooks is sad. The fact that someone agrees with him/her is scary. I guess the wealth envy argument is really catching on, which does not bode well for the future of our country. The indisputable fact is the vast majority of all millionaires in our country are self made. They didn’t screw anyone, they didn’t win the gene pool by inheriting their wealth, and they didn’t win the lottery. They worked got up early, worked hard, followed the rules, delayed and sacrificed gratification and after many years they their hard work and sacrifice paid off. Rather than denigrate, perhaps you might try emulating them.

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Sen. Bill N

    Slowly but surely we are getting governed by the wealthy and to fulfil their greed as are the only ones that can afford the elections. Slowly but surely walking back to feudalism!
    By now if you out there want to prevent cuts in our SS, Medicare and Medicaid and also to prevent it to be privatized for future generations, better call our Fl Senators and let them know, as is on the table of cuts by the Fed, House and Senate now.

    Sen. Bill Nelson FL (Democrat)
    Phone:(202) 224-5274Fax:(202) 228-218
    Sen. Marco Rubio FL (Republican)
    Phone:(202) 224-3041Fax:(202) 228-0285

  15. palmcoaster says:

    Johnny I never said the word “all” I said “the wealthy” referring as the one’s we all know very well about and are too many to name on each post. Scary is what is is being done right now to our middle class, our public and private workers and their rights, to our public education, to our brave soldiers and to our future generations, that is really scary.

  16. ignorancecosts says:

    I suppose it depends on your definition of rich,as to whether ‘most people who are rich, made their wealth dishonestly’. If you go by the White House rational, then, the rich(who deserve to be taxed more), are: The top 1% of tax payers, paying 38% of tax revenue, top 2-5% paying 21% of income tax revenue, top 6-10% paying 11% of tax revenue.

    Do you know what the threshold of income is for he top 10%? The top 1% of earners make $300,000 plus! 95% of Americans make less than $250,000 per year. (Just a little aside here..Capitol gains taxes will hit 87% of people who earn less than $100,000 per year. Those evil people!)

    A millionaire might be living in the P or R section driving an old pickup truck, and standing in line next to you at Walmart.

    A few years back, not sure what it is now, a look at the fortune 400 showed that most of the rich on that list earned their wealth from the gound up. While the majority of the rest inherited a business, and ‘grew’ it. I didn’t see where the Kennedy’s earned theirs.

    The wonderful concept of ‘compounding interest’ made a lot of regular folk, millionaires.
    If Obama thinks that the top 10% haven’t paid as much the last few years, and the revenue Govco receives from them has fallen, one major reason was the stock market falling. Did it effect you? If you are benefit when they benefit, you will not benefit when they don’t.

    It is actually not too bright to base your country’s revenue on taxing the rich. What happens when they don’t make any money? Their income is too volatile. Especially when the Gov’t is interfering in the economy and markets. They have negatively effected far more than the average person has the time to research and find out about, since the media isn’t telling them.

    I’m so tired of the name calling. I actually use to ‘be’ a corporation. We (husband and i) never took home (4 kids) more than $80,000. Never grossed over $200,000. We had to pay more than 50% in taxes. And that was with the evil benefits you get from being a corporation.

    If the number of people funding the Federal Gov’t with their income tax (most income comes from income tax) is smaller than number of those who are receiving monetary benefits, it won’t last forever. Europe proves it. Look at your history books, and current events. And most expenditures are entitlements, not Armed forces, etc.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Ignorancecost, as per your description of the way you earned your living you fall into the category as we all describe as; the majority of hard working, honest people in our country and if you are a millionaire you made it the old fashion way, you earned it! Then your alleged reference of “name calling” to many wealthy or corporations not paying the fair share of their taxes, sure was not directed at you. Have you heard of the Koch brothers…?.

  18. Dorothea says:

    Ignorancecosts, the proposed tax hikes are for those making over one million dollars a year, in the year that they are taxed. Your stats left out the fact that these folks are also taking in 40% of the income. Seems like they can afford to fork over a few extra percentages in taxes. Many of the people making this kind of money are the same people whose manipulations got us into this economic mess in the first place.

    Palmcoaster, I hope that everyone reads about ALEC and the Koch brothers who pull the strings on their elected Republican puppets.

  19. becky says:

    Yes, we earned it the old fashioned way. Working 7 day weeks, no vacations, no new vehicles, no health insurance. Do we deserve to be taxed at +50%? The point about those making 40% of the income in the US..what exactly is the point? There is enough for everyone to work with. There just isn’t enough for Govco to take more than is made and give it away.

  20. Dorothea says:

    Becky, I don’t know who the “we” is that doesn’t take vacations, have no new vehicles, etc., but it is NOT the hedge fund managers and bankers who ripped this country off. However, there is no proposed tax rate at 50% for anyone. If you are earning 1 million dollars a year and still have no health insurance, no vacations, drive an old car and work 7 days a week, better get yourself a good accountant who can show you all the tax loopholes so that can you enjoy the good life and deduct it all from your million dollars a year.

  21. Kyle Russell says:

    Becky, if the top percent is taking in 40% of income, they should be paying 40% of taxes. Proportional taxation.

  22. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Kyle Russell says:
    July 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm
    “Becky, if the top percent is taking in 40% of income, they should be paying 40% of taxes. Proportional taxation.”

    Wow. If all they had to pay was 40% they would be satisfied (although I would still argue that is very unfair, proportional taxation does nothing but punish success, but that debate is for a different time)…

    Facts: Top 5% of income earners (not takers!) pays 59% percent of all income taxes in this country.
    Top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all income taxes. Top 25% pays 87% of all income taxes. How exactly is that “proportional taxation”?

    Bottom 50% of income earners pay less than 3% of the income taxes in our country. How much longer do you propose sticking it to the people paying the tab? What level would satisfy?

  23. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    and to follow up… if you go to lunch with your friend, should you first compare the amount you and your friend earned last year before you divy up the lunch bill and decide which of you pays what percent? After all the bill should be proportional based on your income, rather than the cost of each individual’s meals, right?

  24. NortonSmitty says:

    Two words for you defenders of the integrity of wealthy politicians: Rick Scott.

  25. Kyle Russell says:

    Johnny, I was referring to income size, not population size. You’re twisting numbers around to make a point that isn’t there.

  26. becky says:

    Whoops, when I reply from my phone, its Becky, computer, ignorancecosts. I don’t think I said I made A million $. We, are my husband and I. When we were incorporated, we had a CPA, under whose advice we incorporated. We didn’t gross over 225,000 year, or net over 80,000. But we did pay +50% yearly in Federal taxes. That includes the matching SS funds we had to pay on our employees payroll. (of whom I was one). (Also, if we went to a fair tax, that would be fair. Taxes paid on all purchases. The very poor receive a rebate. All illegals pay, all rich pay, etc. IRS basically gone, don’t have to pay them.)

  27. Kevin says:

    “…but it is NOT the hedge fund managers and bankers who ripped this country off.”. Here goes Dorothea again positioning another one of her ridiculous canards.

    No Dorothea they aren’t the ones who ripped off America as much as you would delusionally like to think they did. In what way specifically does a hedge fund manager hurt our economy??? What you suggest is like what I said, a canard made up by idiot journalists and others who lack technical understanding of what affects the security markets and the economy. Hate them as you may, our problems are not the result of their actions. You’ll probably ignorantly refer to oil prices so I’ll wait and check back again when I’m next a trolling for ignorance and straighten you out on that falsehood after you suggest it.

  28. Kevin says:

    Rick Scott isn’t the only wealthy politician with a tainted background NS. Why not be fair in your insinuations as to condemn all that deserve it. As you know I’m no fan of Scott either but I wouldn’t just mention him if I were a fair minded person trying to “fix” things.

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