US Election: How rich are Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Donald Trump?

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·8-min read

Donald Trump certainly isn’t reticent talking about his billion-dollar fortune, but the other main players in the upcoming US election prefer to downplay their assets.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden has even used it as a way to relate to prospective voters, saying in 2014 that “I don’t own a single stock or bond…I have no savings accounts.” But the key figures in this election certainly aren’t struggling for cash.

Here’s how much they’re worth, and how they made their millions.

Joe Biden

Net worth: Around US$9million

He’s known as middle-class Joe, and used to joke about being “the second poorest man in congress” but today Biden’s bank account is extremely healthy. His tax returns show that he earned US$11million after finishing in his role as Obama’s Vice President in 2017, and US$4.5 million in 2018. His earnings haven’t all gone in his pocket though. Around US$5.2million of that was paid in taxes in 2017 and 2018, and US$1.275million went to charity.

Here’s how he earned the rest:

Salary increases over 43 years

When Joe Biden first became a senator in 1973, his salary would have been around US$42,500 a year. This increased steadily every year until 2008 when he was elected Vice President. This meant he earned US$230,000 a year until he left the White House in 2017. It’s also believed he would have received around US$500,000 in pensions and social security benefits during those nine years.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on stage with his wife Dr Jill Biden.
Joe and Jill Biden do not not exactly come from humble means.

Books and public speaking

Biden’s first book, Promises to Keep, was released in 2008 but didn’t make him any money, with royalties being “close to zero” according to the financial documents he has released. After he left his Vice President’s role in 2017, he wrote Promise me, Dad, which documents his son Beau’s death from brain cancer in 2015. The book has sold over 300,000 copies, but the really lucrative part was the book tour that accompanied the release, which paid him around US$1.8million. He and his wife Jill – who has also written a book - have done regular public speaking events over the past few years, which added US$3.1million to their wealth. He’s also been a Practice Professor at the University of Pennsylvania for the past three years which earns him US$400,000 a year.

Kamala Harris

Net Worth: US$6million, or US$2.5 million accounting for debt on property

Although the current Vice Presidential candidate dropped out of the Democratic nomination for President in December 2018, saying she “was not a billionaire” and couldn’t “fund her own campaign,” she is still a millionaire.

Here’s how she amassed her fortune:

Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Senator Kamala Harris wearing a mask
Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris is worth nearly $A10 million.

Political career

After graduating from law school in 1989, Harris worked at the district attorney’s office in California. In 2003 she became district attorney of San Francisco where she earned US$140,000 a year, which rose to US$260,000 a year by the time she left in 2011. Her time there also netted her a pension, which is worth around US$250,000 a year. In 2017 she became a senator, which earned her just over US$150,000 a year.

Books

Harris has published three books, for which she’s received US$556,000 in advances. Her 2019 memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey earned her US$320,000.

Joint assets

When Harris married attorney Douglas Emhoff in 2014, he was working at law firm Venable, that had bought the firm he had established in 2007. Together the couple own three homes in LA, San Francisco and Washington, which are believed to be worth around US$5.8million in total.

Mike Pence

Net Worth: US$1.2million

He’s vying to be re-elected as Vice President of the United States, but Mike Pence only just makes it into the millionaires’ club. He doesn’t own his own home, and reportedly owes somewhere between US$100,000 and US$245,000 in student loans he took out to help his three children through college. Pence needn’t worry too much though; Vice Presidents have a history of making most of their money after they leave office; Bill Clinton’s VP Al Gore was reportedly worth just under US$2million while he was in office between 1993 and 2001, but today is worth around $200 million, thanks to his hit film An Inconvenient Truth.

Here’s where Pence’s million comes from:

Pensions

Pence served as governor of Indiana from 2012 to 2016, earning him a hefty state pension. Combined with his federal pension from serving as a congressman and now VP, his pension will pay him around US$85,000 a year for the rest of his life. There is also a savings plan for federal employees which doesn’t have to be disclosed to the public. If Pence has been making regular contributions, he may have several hundred thousand dollars sitting in these accounts.

Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he speaks to a crowd.
Vice President Mike Pence is the poorest of the lot at just a US$1.2 million net worth.

Savings and shares

Pence has around $65,000 in index funds and reportedly just $15,000 in savings – if he has disclosed all his assets. In 2004, he owned around US$450,000 worth of shares in a company called Kiel Bros Oil Co, which it’s believed he inherited from his dad. When the company went bankrupt, these dropped to nothing. However, he managed to earn around US$600,000 from the company going under.

How he lives

In 1990 when Pence was running for congress, he was embroiled in a financial scandal after he used political donations for his campaign to cover his mortgage, credit card and grocery bills. “I’m not embarrassed I need to make a living,” he told reporters at the time.

Pence and his wife of 35 years Karen, previously had two houses, one in Indiana and one in Washington. They sold these before 2013 and when Pence became governor of Indiana at the beginning of that year, he moved into the governor’s mansion. From there, they moved into the Vice President’s official residence, where taxpayers cover all major living expenses apart from household items and meals.

Donald Trump

Net Worth: US$2.5 billion – down US$600 million from this time last year

Donald Trump is the first US President to be a billionaire. He regularly boasts that he doesn’t draw his President’s salary, but he still profits from real estate he owns – something many believe violates the laws of being in office.

This is how he made his billions:

Family money

Trump started out by borrowing money from his dad, real estate mogul Fred Trump, who reportedly gave his son US$1million to kickstart his career, after he finished university in 1968. Fred built low-income housing in New York’s outer suburbs, but Trump decided to build luxury residences in New York, which is how he began to amass his huge fortune.

His long guarded tax returns were finally released by The New York Times on Monday, showing that the US president paid just $750 (A$1065) in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017, and paid no income taxes in 10 of the last 15 years, despite receiving $427.4 million (A$607m) through 2018 from his reality television program and other endorsement and licensing deals.

Mr Trump has managed to pay virtually no income tax by claiming extensive losses from across his business empire.

Real estate

In 1976, Trump worked on his first big hotel project, The Commodore. He joined forces with the Hyatt organisation to buy it, and renamed it the Grand Hyatt. It was thought to be a risky investment, but paid off, allowing him to go on and buy other hotels, offices and shops in New York and around the rest of the country. Today he owns properties including office and retail space on Wall Street, Avenue of the Americas, as well as scores of properties such as Trump Towers, Trump Plaza, Trump International Hotel and Towers in Chicago, Las Vegas and Washington. These vary in value from between US$2 million and US$342 million, and he also earns rent from many of these.

Brand

Although real estate is what earned Trump his initial fortune, he consolidated it by turning the Trump name into an internationally recognised brand. In the 1980s, the Trump brand started to be licensed to other companies, earning huge brand value across the world. When Trump appeared on The Apprentice in 2005 he not only earned around $30 million from his role on the show, but also firmed up his brand.

Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to the White House residence. Source: Getty
Donald Trump has money tied up in all sort of ventures.

Other revenue

His business has charged the campaign for food and lodgings – meaning that the money donated by his supporters goes straight into his business. He also owns 10 golf courses in the US, three in Europe, plus private clubs such as Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Oh, and he has about US$160million in cash hanging around.

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