WASHINGTON — Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney “is probably one of the richest people ever to run for President of the United States” according to his party rival Rick Perry.
With an estimated net worth of $250 million, Romney is certainly very wealthy compared with most Americans.
And after the biggest economic crash since the 1930s, his wealth is now being wielded against him in the hope of dulling his popular appeal.
Romney has refused to release his latest tax returns, making an accurate assessment difficult. But according to David Friedman, chief of research firm Wealth-X, Romney is among the 3,140 richest individuals in the United States.
That would make the former Massachusetts governor, who made his fortune as the CEO of private equity firm Bain Capital, around 2,000 times wealthier than the average American.
“He is definitely wealthy, but with $250 million you are actually not at a place where you are buying a lot of private jets and doing those kind of things,” said Friedman. “Well, maybe you can get a smaller private jet, but you are not getting the top jets.”
Does that make Romney one of the richest presidential candidates? Perhaps. The richest? Not even close.
Even with the means for a jet-set lifestyle, Romney is a relative pauper compared to some others who have beat a path to the White House.
In recent memory, Steve Forbes — who inherited the eponymous magazine from his father — ran quixotic campaigns for the Republican nomination in 1996 and 2000 on the back of a net worth of at least $450 million, according to Wealth-X.
That pales in comparison to 1992 and 1996 independent hopeful Ross Perot, an information technology mogul worth $3.9 billion.
Even inequality-sensitive Democrats have not shirked from wealthy candidates.
Massachusetts senator and 2004 nominee John Kerry has an estimated net worth of $240 million, much of it linked to his wife, heir to the Heinz Ketchup fortune.
Going further back in history, Romney’s fortune is more akin to that of America’s founding fathers.
According to a 2010 study by 24/7 Wall Street, “father of the country” and first president George Washington’s wealth would today be in the region of $525 million, thanks, in part, to owning 8,000 acres of prime farmland at Mount Vernon near the US capital.
Plantation-owning Thomas Jefferson, the third president, may have been worth roughly the same as Romney.
A 1994 book by author Robert Gunther placed Washington and John Hancock — the first governor of Massachusetts — among the richest 60 Americans in history.
John F. Kennedy, although he never inherited his family’s wealth, would have been worth around $1 billion in today’s dollars.
Even if wealth and US politics have gone hand-in-hand, in the wake of the Great Recession, Romney’s fortune stands against a backdrop of country-wide austerity.
“There has been an ‘L’ shaped downturn for the average American, a plummet in their financial position and no upturn,” said Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist Northwestern University.
“It was much more sharply ‘V’ shaped for people on top,” he said.
“This has sharpened issues of wealth and whether the pain is being shared broadly, even the Occupy movement is symbolic of the anger.”