It took a while for freshman Rep. Diane Black, 60, to get to the United States Congress and begin fighting against tax increases. But by the time she did, the Tennessee Republican had a lot of money to fight for. According to recently disclosed financial information, Black has a net worth between $16 million and $74 million and may be the richest new member of the House of Representatives. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that her net worth in 2009 was $49 million.
As is the case with many new members of Congress, Black swept into office on last November’s tea party wave with a message of fiscal austerity. But there is a big gap between Black and the constituents she represents. The median income of her Tennessee district, according to the Almanac of American Politics, is about $46,000.
Much of Black’s money comes from her interest in Aegis Sciences Corporation, a Nashville forensic chemical and drug-testing laboratory that her husband, David, founded in 1986. Aegis, a company begun as a provider of drug-testing services for sports teams and employers, is also politically well-connected: Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., joined its board of directors in 2009. In 2010, according to Black’s financial disclosure report, she and her husband sold a stake in their company for between $25 million and $50 million to Metalmark Capital. (The couple also bought back shares in the company worth between $5 million and $25 million, according to the disclosure.)
The Blacks also disclosed commercial properties in Nashville worth a total of at least $8.5 million, and the congresswoman’s liabilities amounted to at least $5.9 million. A spokeswoman in Black’s office said that the liabilities were for mortgages and a small business line of credit.
Black entered politics in 1998, when she was elected to the first of three terms in the Tennessee House, and in 2001 she was involved in an anti-tax protest—a portent of her tea party positions to come. Despite being a first-term lawmaker on Capitol Hill, Black managed to land a plum spot this year on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Of the 242 Republicans in the House, more than a third were elected in 2010. The historically large group of new faces gave Republican leaders an unprecedented opportunity to mold the future of their party. Leaders took advantage of the moment by giving bright thinkers and team players from the freshman class big chances on big committees.
GOP leaders had every reason to believe that Black had come to Washington as a team player.
Last year, she spread $15,000 of campaign funds among 15 Republican candidates. That’s on top of the more than $60,000 she and her husband donated to conservative PACs and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Today, she is one of only two freshmen on the Ways and Means Committee and the only freshman with an assignment to represent Ways and Means in the Budget Committee.
House rules allow three members of the majority party on the Ways and Means Committee to also serve on the Budget Committee as one of their subcommittee assignments, according to a press release from the committee. Black shares the dual appointment with two of the most important Republicans in the House: Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.
This article appears in the June 17, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.