Does Millionaire Sen. Ben Nelson's Desire To Leave A "Bigger Estate" Affect His Voting Record?

November 02, 2011 3:01 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is still deciding whether to run for re-election next year, and says his personal finances will play a role in his decision:

One of the considerations he always raises in discussions with his family about his political future is the issue of "leaving a bigger estate or legacy," Nelson said.

Nelson, 70, presumably would have some major opportunities to increase his wealth in the private sector if he decided to leave the Senate at the end of his current term.

According to the most recent estimates by the Center for Responsive Politics, Nelson's current net worth is somewhere between $8 million and $16 million, making him the 21st-richest senator, so he's already likely to leave a pretty big estate. 

Nelson's concern about the size of his already-impressive estate is interesting in light of his recent votes on behalf of the mega-rich. Nelson has voted to filibuster jobs legislation because he doesn't want to raise taxes. But the legislation he has filibustered would raise taxes only on people with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $1 million — about 1,050 Nebraskans, for example. While the millionaire surcharge would affect only one-tenth of one-percent of his constituents, it could pose a very slight inconvenience to Nelson's "major opportunities to increase his wealth in the private sector." (It's worth noting that the vast majority of millionaires favor raising taxes on millionaires.)

And speaking of leaving behind large estates: Ben Nelson supports a full repeal of the estate tax, despite being so concerned about deficits that he has blocked unemployment benefits. The estate tax affects a very small number of the richest Americans — only 53 estates in Nebraska owed any tax in 2009. As a result, repeal of the tax would benefit almost no estates — though Ben Nelson's estate would likely be among them. 

It's hard not to wonder if Sen. Nelson's personal financial goals influence his support for policies that favor rich people like Ben Nelson at the expense of the vast majority of his constituents.