Stacey Abrams is now a member of the millionaire’s club. That’s right. In the four short years since her failed 2018 Georgia gubernatorial bid, Abrams went from a net worth of $109,000 to $3.17 million, according to state disclosures. For some people, losing an election is a crushing blow. For Abrams, it was a goldmine.
Unlike politicians who inherit their wealth or suddenly see their income explode after winning office (the rich get elected and the elected get rich), Abrams had to hustle. (The bulk of Abrams’ money comes from paid speeches, investments, book deals, her role as executive director of the Southern Economic Advancement Project, and her role on the board of Heliogen—a California company whose aim is “replacing fossil fuels with concentrated sunlight.”)
Still, these opportunities wouldn’t have been possible without the attention she garnered by running for governor. Complicating matters is Abrams’ refusal to concede her loss, which helped boost her status as both a victim and a leader of the resistance.
This is not to say that Abrams lacks ideas or that her primary motivation was cashing in. But when running for office boosts your income tenfold in a mere four years, it’s clear that the incentives are perverse.
Abrams’ newfound wealth is representative of the growing income gap between politicians and normies. This gap is statistically demonstrable. Something like 8 percent of American adults are millionaires, while members of Congress weigh in at about 50 percent. To anyone paying attention, this discrepancy is too large to be written off as mere coincidence.
This trend has worsened in recent decades. According to a 2011 article in The Washington Post, as recently as 1975 “it wasn’t nearly so unusual for a person with few assets besides a home to win and serve in Congress.” The article goes on to note that lawmakers “of that time included a barber, a pipe fitter, and a house painter.”
Today, things are quite different. Between 1984 and 2009, the median wealth of a House member “more than doubled,” while “the wealth of the average American family declined.” The chasm has only widened since then. According to BallotPedia’s “Personal Gain Index,” between 2004 and 2012, “the average increase in net worth for the top 100 [richest congressional incumbents] was 114 percent per year.”
Now, Abrams nixed entreaties to run for the U.S. Senate, in favor of running again to become governor of Georgia—so her newfound status as a millionaire won’t affect those congressional statistics. What is more, the Republican governor she’s running to replace, Brian Kemp, is worth about $8.5 million, according to the Associated Press.
No matter who wins the gubernatorial election, the next governor of Georgia will be a millionaire (Kemp’s GOP primary opponent, former Sen. David Perdue, has more money than Abrams and Kemp combined). This fact only serves to reinforce the point: Even if politicians aren’t accumulating outsized wealth by dubious means (like insider trading), the data confirm the nagging suspicion that the game is systemically rigged, and that politicians are out of touch with normal people.
Of course, for Abrams, there’s another twist.
Progressives are stereotypically known for attacking the rich and wanting to lower income inequality; so when they are able to parlay their political celebrity into millions of bucks, the accusations of them being hypocritical limousine liberals gain greater legitimacy. During a rally in Georgia last month, for example, former President Donald Trump criticized Abrams for “living in these gorgeous multi-multi-million-dollar houses.”
Fair or not, you know the stereotype. They fly private jets to climate summits, are chauffeured to work in gas-guzzling SUVs, and want to “reallocate resources” away from the police (while paying for their own private security). When it comes to identifying with the working class—a cohort that has trended Republican in recent years—these folks can come across as out of touch.
In the words of millionaire democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, “I wrote a best-selling book. If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”
But Sanders’ book wasn’t a best seller because he writes like Ernest Hemingway. His book was a best seller because he was able to use campaign dollars to run for president and subsequently raise his profile. Then (to his credit), his message caught fire because it resonated with people. Then, he no doubt leveraged contacts, expertise, and ideas he accrued along the way (as we all do) to procure a book deal and then write it—which, yes, contributed to his millionaire status.
In a world where the public’s trust of politicians and political institutions is already low—and where so many people want to be Instagram famous—ambitious players increasingly have a reason to view politics as a vehicle to riches and celebrity. And with a House that has Squad members on the left and MTGs and Matt Gaetzes on the right, we’ve got our hands full as it is.
Now, fame and fortune have long been associated with politics, but as both anecdotal evidence and the aforementioned data demonstrate, the trend has exploded. America is only a few years removed from electing a reality TV star named Donald Trump. He parlayed his fame and reputation as an alleged billionaire businessman into electoral success, and then, profited even more as president. This is a bipartisan phenomenon, but the fact that you can lose and still cash in all but guarantees Abrams’ example is sure to inspire some imitators.
To anyone paying attention, the lessons are obvious. If you can’t sing or dance, just run for office instead. Fake it till you make it. Fail forward. Who wants to be a millionaire? You, too, can be rich. Hey, it worked for Stacey Abrams!