Just How Wealthy Is Hillary Clinton?

If elected president, the former secretary of State would be richer than close to four out of five of her predecessors.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles before speaking at the World Bank May 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Clinton and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim joined others to speak about women's rights. 
AFP/Getty Images
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
June 30, 2014, 1:36 p.m.

The last time Hil­lary Clin­ton ran for pres­id­ent, ques­tions about her wealth dogged her cam­paign un­til its wan­ing days, when she fi­nally re­len­ted to pres­sure to re­lease her tax re­turns not long be­fore con­ced­ing the nom­in­a­tion to Barack Obama. “It’s a pretty in­con­veni­ent time for this to come out,” Demo­crat­ic strategist Bill Car­rick com­men­ted on the oc­ca­sion.

Per­haps now, a year and half be­fore the Iowa caucuses, is a more con­veni­ent time, but Re­pub­lic­ans hope to keep the likely Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner’s wealth on the table as long as pos­sible.

“Every elec­tion cycle the Demo­crats play the class war­fare card to gin up their base and use per­son­al suc­cess to ques­tion the char­ac­ter of Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates,” said Ry­an Wil­li­ams, who had to de­fend Mitt Rom­ney from jabs at his wealth day after day as a cam­paign spokes­man in 2012. “It is amus­ing to watch the same people who smeared Gov­ernor Rom­ney’s hard work and ac­com­plished private-sec­tor ca­reer des­per­ately spin for Hil­lary and whine about she has a right to make a liv­ing without be­ing at­tacked. There is no ques­tion that this is po­et­ic justice.”

But just how wealthy is Clin­ton in the grand scheme of Amer­ic­an pres­id­ents? While cal­cu­la­tions are in­her­ently gauzy and come with plenty of caveats, it’s reas­on­able to es­tim­ate that Clin­ton would enter the White House in around the 80th per­cent­ile in his­tor­ic­al Oval Of­fice wealth, mean­ing she’d be worth more than close to four out of five of her pre­de­cessors. That’s a big jump from her hus­band, who was among the least wealthy men to as­sume the of­fice, but rich­er than Obama.

Clin­ton’s most re­cent per­son­al fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure form, filed as she was leav­ing her post at the State De­part­ment, shows that she and her hus­band held as­sets worth between about $5.2 and $25.5 mil­lion in 2012 (the forms re­quire only broad ranges of as­sets).

That num­ber has surely grown in the past year, as Clin­ton likely earned mil­lions in a book ad­vance for her new mem­oir, and she and her hus­band can both col­lect hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars for a single speech. And that doesn’t in­clude their two mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar homes, which are held in trusts for tax reas­ons.

No mat­ter where their ac­tu­al worth falls on that spec­trum, it’s a lot of money by any­one’s stand­ard (their in­come prob­ably puts them in the top 1 per­cent of the top 1 per­cent), but still it’s nowhere near the kind of wealth en­joyed the coun­try’s wealth­i­est former ex­ec­ut­ives.

The most com­pre­hens­ive data on pres­id­en­tial net worth comes from the fin­an­cial news web­site 24/7 Wall Street, which in 2010 used his­tor­ic­al data to ball­park the in­fla­tion-ad­jus­ted net worth of every Amer­ic­an pres­id­ent. In Feb­ru­ary of this year, they up­dated those num­bers.

George Wash­ing­ton is by far the richest pres­id­ent, thanks to his large land­hold­ings, with an es­tim­ated net worth of $525 mil­lion in today’s dol­lars, al­most doub­ling Thomas Jef­fer­son, who comes in second at $212 mil­lion. (John F. Kennedy’s fam­ily’s wealth was much lar­ger, at least a bil­lion dol­lars, but he nev­er con­trolled the fin­ances, so it’s not coun­ted here.)

Things have changed a lot since the early days of the Re­pub­lic, when every single pres­id­ent was a wealthy landown­er. In the second half of the 19th cen­tury, pres­id­ents ten­ded to be more middle-class, while the 20th cen­tury saw a mix of wealthy in­dus­tri­al­ists, heirs, and more-mod­est pub­lic ser­vants and law­yers.

24/7 Wall Street es­tim­ates the Clin­tons’ wealth at around $55 mil­lion, which puts the former pres­id­ent in the ninth po­s­i­tion, between two of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s most icon­ic (and wealth­i­est) pres­id­ents: Kennedy and Frank­lin Delano Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt, FDR’s cous­in, comes in third.

All of the wealth­i­est pres­id­ents on the list, with the ex­cep­tion of Clin­ton, in­her­ited or mar­ried in­to money. When FDR took up eco­nom­ic pop­u­lism, call­ing for a “more equit­able … dis­tri­bu­tion of na­tion­al wealth” while ac­cept­ing the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion, his pa­tri­cian peers saw him as a trait­or to his class, as Uni­versity of Texas pro­fess­or H.W. Brands wrote in his 2008 bio­graphy of the pres­id­ent.

As Clin­ton has in­art­fully tried to ex­plain, she and Bill did not in­her­it wealth, but came from re­l­at­ively mod­est means and earned money through speak­ing and writ­ing. Now, after years mon­et­iz­ing her polit­ic­al celebrity, she would be firmly in the up­per fin­an­cial ech­el­on of polit­ic­al fig­ures, but not quite at the very top.

In Con­gress, sev­er­al dozen mem­bers have net worths up to $50 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, but a hand­ful are worth hun­dreds of mil­lions. Rom­ney, the 2012 GOP nom­in­ee, re­por­ted as­sets of between $190 mil­lion and $250 mil­lion in his most re­cent fin­an­cial dis­clos­ures, far high­er than Clin­ton.

Of course, much of this rank­ing is aca­dem­ic. But one part is not: Clin­ton would be the first fe­male pres­id­ent, but also the first com­mand­er in chief whose spouse comes with sig­ni­fic­ant in­come.

Michelle Obama made more money than her hus­band dur­ing much of their re­la­tion­ship, but set her ca­reer aside as Barack Obama’s polit­ic­al star rose (in 2007 she gave up a seat on the board of a Wal-Mart sup­pli­er and the salary that came with it after her hus­band cri­ti­cized the re­tail­er).

Oth­er spouses, like Jack­ie Kennedy, have come with fam­ily money, but none have been ma­jor earners like Bill Clin­ton would be for Hil­lary. Some­times the Clin­ton fam­ily busi­ness is ac­tu­al busi­ness.

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