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How Much Is Sen. Mitch McConnell Worth?

By News Creatives Authors , in Billionaires , at January 1, 1970

At 79, Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Republican leader in Senate history, holds one of the top positions in his party and the U.S. government. He also sits atop a multimillion-dollar fortune, thanks to his wife, former cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, and the well-timed investing of a small inheritance he and his wife received soon after his mother-in-law died in 2007. Today, McConnell and Chao—who own homes in Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., along with a large portfolio of stocks, bonds and money market funds—are worth an estimated $30 million. 

The great-grandson of a Confederate soldier and son of a World War II veteran who later worked for DuPont, McConnell wasn’t born wealthy. As a young boy in the Deep South, he contracted polio. “I recovered, but my family almost went broke,” McConnell said in a 1990 campaign ad. His family moved to Kentucky when he was 13, according to his memoir, The Long Game, and McConnell stayed in the state for college and law school. He snagged his first job in D.C. in 1968, working as the chief legislative assistant to Kentucky Sen. Marlow Cook. The work paid $17,000 a year, or about $130,000 in today’s dollars. Sixteen years later, in 1984, McConnell won his own Senate seat, guaranteeing him a steady, upper middle-class salary. He has stayed there now for more than 35 years and, as minority leader, earns $193,400 today. (He and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer make the same, while all other senators pull in $174,000).

For years, his wife has made more. Chao, McConnell’s second wife, was serving as the CEO of the United Way when the couple got married in 1993, following stints in finance, and in Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush’s transportation departments.

In 1997, McConnell reported on his Senate financial disclosure that Chao earned $112,000 from 18 speeches to groups such as Penn State and Southwestern Bell Corp., in addition to a salary from her job at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation and director’s fees from a board position with the National Association of Securities Dealers. And in 2001, when George W. Bush made Chao the country’s first Asian American woman in the cabinet, she was serving on the boards of at least ten corporations. It was enough to make them comfortable, but not filthy rich. That year, McConnell listed his family’s assets at somewhere between $2 million and $4.5 million on a financial disclosure. The vast majority of those holdings were attributed to Chao. 

Over the next few years, while McConnell earned about $140,000 annually on Capitol Hill, Chao served as Bush’s labor secretary, bringing in about $180,000 per year. Their fortune remained relatively static until 2008, when McConnell and Chao suddenly got a whole lot richer. 

It was then that they received a multimillion-dollar gift from Elaine’s father, James Chao, in memory of her mother, who had died a year earlier. In 2019, Forbes obtained a copy of a will for Elaine’s mother, which detailed her holdings at the time of her death, worth nearly $59 million. Among them: a “closely held business interest” worth $57.5 million. 

James Chao, who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, started a shipping business called Foremost Maritime Group in 1964 that today has a fleet of bulk carriers worth some $1.3 billion, according to shipping database VesselsValue. Dry bulk shipping companies tend to carry between 40% and 60% debt, so Foremost could be worth about $650 million. Elaine’s youngest sister, Angela, is the CEO of Foremost Group and is also married to billionaire venture capitalist Jim Breyer

The will directed the maximum amount of money that could pass through without incurring federal estate taxes to her daughters. At the time, that was $2 million. Their father, James, got the rest. Then he gave more to his daughter Elaine and her husband, McConnell, on top of that. It’s not clear exactly how large the gift was, but McConnell, on his 2008 disclosure, which requires filers to report assets in ranges, listed a money market fund worth between $5 million and $25 million.

If Chao and McConnell had received even just a $5 million gift in 2008 and invested the entire amount into the S&P 500 that year, it could be worth some $20 million today. Chao and McConnell don’t appear to have done that, exactly. But McConnell’s filings suggest that they might have had about a quarter of their holdings in equities in 2008. By the end of 2020, it appeared that they had shifted their holdings so that now three quarters of their holdings are in equities. That shift over the years helped McConnell and Chao capitalize on the booming stock market, which has roughly quadrupled since the lowest point in the market in 2008.

In addition, Chao supplemented those investment gains with additional earnings. She joined at least six additional boards at companies such as News Corp, Ingersoll Rand and Wells Fargo. On the disclosure she filed after Donald Trump appointed her to his cabinet as transportation secretary, she reported receiving more than $1.5 million in directors’ fees and equity awards between 2015 and 2016.

Chao left those board positions when she joined Trump’s cabinet and stayed in that role until January 2021, when she quit in the wake of the Capitol riot. On her way out, she filed one last financial disclosure report, documenting assets worth somewhere between $14 million and $60 million.

Forbes estimates that the couple is worth about $30 million today. But it’s still growing. The stock market continues to soar, and Chao is back to work in the private sector. In August, she was elected to join the boards of two companies, electric truck maker Hyliion and grocery giant Kroger, where she has already started receiving stock compensation. Her father, meanwhile, is still alive at 93 years old. When he dies, another rush of money may come to Chao and McConnell. 

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