Fact Check: There is NO Mystery To Dramatic Increase In Sen. Mitch McConnell's Net Worth: He Married Into A Shipping Magnate's Family

Fact Check

  • by: Olivera Perkins
Fact Check: There is NO Mystery To Dramatic Increase In Sen. Mitch McConnell's Net Worth: He Married Into A Shipping Magnate's Family Family Gift

Is there something mysterious about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's net worth multiplying eight-fold from $2,962,015 in 2005 to $23,965,520 in 2015 on a salary of $193,400 a year? No, that's not true: The Republican from Kentucky did see a dramatic increase in his net worth, but context is missing from a post questioning the increase. Both Senate disclosure documents and probate court filings corroborate what McConnell's office has said, at least as far back as a June 12, 2009, politico.com article: his wealth shot up after the death of his mother-in-law, a co-founder of Foremost Maritime Company, a major shipper of freight to China. McConnell's wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is the eldest of the six daughters of James Si-Cheng Chao and his wife Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, who built the company.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published Feb. 25, 2019, which said:

Sen. Mitch McConnell's net worth:

2005: $2,962,015

2015: $26,927,535

Increase: $23,965,520 (+809.1%)

How does a senator earning $193,400 a year increase their net worth by nearly $2.4 million a year, every year for a decade?

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Thu Mar 4 20:25:50 2021 UTC)

An analysis of McConnell's financial disclosure records on opensecrets.org shows a steep increase in his assets in 2008, including a tax-exempt money market fund valued at between $5 and $25 million. OpenSecrets.org, run by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, is a "comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis."

The 2-year-old Facebook post again has become viral. The claim that McConnell's net worth has increased by "nearly $2.4 million a year, every year for a decade," isn't accurate. He's seen higher annual increases. For example, opensecrets.org places McConnell's wealth at $22.16 million in 2014, but at $26.93 million in 2015, an increase of about $4.77 million. McConnell has also seen his net worth decrease. For example, his net worth, which was $30.4 million in 2013, dropped by more than $8 million the following year, according to opensecrets.org analysis of the personal financial disclosure documents members of the U.S. Senate are required to file.

Both the majority and the minority leaders of the Senate and House are paid $193,400 annually. While the Facebook post questions the source of McConnell's wealth, his office first answered the question at least a decade earlier. For example, the 2009 Politico article mentioned above states:

The gift came from Chao's father, Dr. James S.C. Chao, a wealthy Chinese-born businessman, and it boosted McConnell's personal worth from a minimum of $3 million in 2007 to more than $7 million.

"That was a gift from Secretary Chao's father in April 2008 to the Senator and the Secretary, in memory of her mother, who passed away in August 2007," said Don Stewart, McConnell's spokesman. Ruth Mulan Chu was a historian.

Since then, several other articles have been published explaining McConnell's sharp increase in wealth, including a June 10, 2019 article on forbes.com. Forbes reviewed the will of Elaine Chao's late mother, which showed she left nearly $59 million in assets.

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  Olivera Perkins

Olivera Perkins is a veteran journalist and fact checker at Lead Stories, who has covered a variety of beats, including labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

Read more about or contact Olivera Perkins

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