Obama's Personal Finances: My First Car Had a 'Hole in the Floor'


Politics is a lucrative business: Senators are worth -- on average-- $13.2 million, while their poor cousins in the House of Representatives average a comparatively paltry $5.9 million in assets. By comparison, the median household in American brings home only $49,445 per year.

Given the huge wealth gap between average Americans and the legislators who represent them, one of the most amusing spectacles of any election cycle is watching rich politicians twist themselves into pretzels as they try to convince voters that they're "just folks." On Wednesday, President Obama did his version of the dance in response to a reporter's question about his finances.

The slur that Obama can't relate to average Americans is nothing new: He has been accused, variously, of being a snob, an elitist, and a post-colonialist Kenyan socialist. Most recently, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney made headlines with his claim that "years of flying around in Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers" has left the president "out of touch" with common people.

When a reporter brought up the criticism on Wednesday, Obama responded with an answer that touched on many of his common man bona fides:

I went to law school and college with the help of scholarships; so did my wife. We were still paying off student loans nine years after we graduated. I bought my first car for about $900. It had a big hole in the floor that allowed you to see the road, so I knew my wife wasn't marrying me for my money. We had credit-card debt we hadn't paid off. [In fact] Our personal finances...weren't stable until fairly recently.

The President proceeded to turn the critique back on Romney, a promising route, given that the Republican challenger, whose net worth is about $200 million, brought home $21.6 million in 2010, the majority of which came from his investments in the stock market. That year, the President's earnings were $7.3 million, and largely came from royalties on his two books.

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But what of the President's claim that his personal finances only recently stabilized? This is harder to verify, as private citizens are not required to publicly disclose their wealth, but OpenSecrets.Org reports that his earnings in 2004 totaled $112,431, and that his total assets were valued at between $200,000 and $400,000.

Interestingly, this tempest over personal finances came on the heels of the passage of the "Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge" or STOCK Act. The law, which President Obama signed on Wednesday, requires many high-level government officials -- including senators, members of the House of Representatives, top executive branch officials and federal judges -- to disclose most financial transactions of more than $1,000. Designed to halt insider trading by members of Congress, the law will also answer many questions about how much money government officials make -- and who is writing the checks.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971.

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