WASHINGTON – Americans have a choice in November — they can vote for millionaires John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search), or cast their ballot for millionaires George W. Bush (search) and Dick Cheney (search).
Of the foursome, Vice President Cheney and his wife, Lynne, earned the most, according to their 2003 tax returns that showed an adjusted gross income of $1.3 million.
That's far more than what the typical American family brings home: the median household income in 2002 was slightly more than $42,400, according to the Census Bureau. Only about 2 percent of homes make more than $200,000.
Count the Bush, Kerry, Cheney and Edwards clans among those 2 percent.
Bush and his wife, Laura, listed $822,126 in adjusted gross income on their 2003 returns, while Kerry's income was about $393,000. The four-term Massachusetts senator has four trusts worth between $430,000 and $2.1 million.
The Democratic candidate filed his return separately from his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, heiress to the $500 million Heinz Co. fortune. She released information showing earnings of at least $5 million in 2003.
Bush, a former oil company executive, major league baseball owner and governor of Texas, lists among his assets his beloved 1,583-acre Texas ranch, worth between $1 million and $5 million. He also has U.S. Treasury notes valued at $5 million to $8.7 million.
Cheney, who once headed the oil company Halliburton Co., has between $15 million to $75 million in tax-exempt bond funds and $2 million to $10 million in stocks being handled by a global investment management firm.
Edwards, the North Carolina senator and Kerry's running mate, hasn't released his 2003 returns. He did file a financial disclosure statement that's required of the president, vice president, Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress.
In the statement, Edwards disclosed income of at least $680,000 last year, although that's a conservative estimate because lawmakers are allowed to list their income on disclosure forms in broad financial ranges.
While those statements lack the specifics of a tax return, they do offer a glimpse into the personal wealth of politicians. The net worth of Bush, Cheney, Kerry and Edwards runs well into the millions.
Edwards, the son of a two mill workers, built most of his wealth as a highly successful trial attorney, winning $150 million worth of verdicts or settlements in the 1990s. His financial statement shows assets of at least $19 million. Last year, Edwards sold his Washington, D.C., home for $3 million, $800,000 more than what he paid for in 1999.
Running for national political office takes millions and millions, so having millionaire candidates isn't unusual, Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Wednesday.
"Unfortunately, it's not," Lewis said. "It's a sad commentary on our system."
Lewis said a voter may instead consider how a candidate made their money, or in what profession, rather than if they are wealthy. He also noted that in this year's Democratic primaries, less wealthier candidates such as Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Al Sharpton weren't popular with voters.
Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said he didn't think the typical voter "sees (rich candidates) as hypocrisy or as inconsistent. For the voters that matter, they will look at positions and policies more than anything else."