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The richest person in each state

24/7 Wall St. logo 24/7 Wall St. 06-02-2016 Michael B. Sauter and Sam Stebbins
  Harry H. Stine, Mack Chase and George Kaiser. The Richest Person in Each State

The net worth of just 20 U.S. citizens is greater than the combined wealth of more than half of the U.S. population. Political discourse over the past few years has focused on comparisons between the average American and the wealthiest 1%, but this comparison does not capture the wealth disparity within this top echelon of affluent Americans. It ignores an additional strata of individuals whose bank accounts and influence dwarf most of the 1%.

These individuals are so wealthy that they have the resources to singlehandedly affect the course of a national election or to start a massive philanthropic organization. Often, these donations and foundations primarily impact the region in which these individuals live. As might be expected, most of the nation’s hyper-wealthy live in New York, Florida, California, and Texas -- some of the country’s largest and most productive economies.

But even in the most sparsely-populated states, there are individuals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. 24/7 Wall st. reviewed the wealthiest person in each state.

As the election season continues, many of these ultra-wealthy individuals will be in the spotlight as major political donors. Many of the names on this list are well known for contributing massive sums to political action committees in past. The wealthiest person in Nevada and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson contributed more than $100 million to Republican candidates during the 2012 presidential race. A number of GOP candidates have been actively courting Adelson for support. The brothers Charles and David Koch, wealthiest in Kansas and New York, respectively, are also powerful and influential donors for conservative causes.

On the left, Oklahoma’s wealthiest resident George Kaiser contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

How the people on this list amassed their fortunes varies. Many of the country’s wealthiest residents earned billions through their own ingenuity, risk, and hard work. One prominent example is Bill Gates, who is one of wealthiest -- if not the wealthiest -- individual in the world. Born into a middle class family, Gates earned $20,000 at age 15 for developing a computer program to track Seattle traffic patterns. He dropped out of college and went on to start the now ubiquitous Microsoft and is worth an estimated $76 billion today.

In stark contrast to the self-made narrative embodied by those like Bill Gates and others, many of the individuals on this list did little to earn their vast fortunes. Alice Walton, for example, inherited much of her $32 billion estate from Wal-Mart's founder Sam Walton. While she remains largely uninvolved in her family’s business, Walton is the wealthiest person in Texas. Similarly, Bill and Susan Alfond -- the wealthiest people in Maine -- acquired each of their $1.2 billion fortunes as the Berkshire Hathaway stock they inherited from their father increased in value.

While many of the wealthiest people in each state inherited either an established business or a vast fortune from a family member, others took an inheritance and turned it into something much bigger. Harry Stine, Iowa’s richest resident, for example, took his father’s soybean cleaning business and expanded it by genetically modifying and breeding soybeans and seed corn to improve crop yields. Though he did not start the Stine Seed company, he played a major role in the company’s expansion. This likely contributed to the size of his current $3.4 billion fortune and his status as Iowa’s richest man.

The practically unlimited resources these individuals have also give them the opportunity to create massive public trusts and charities that can fund anything from wildlife reserves to need-based scholarships. Often, the case is made that these individuals are pledging only a token of their wealth as a public relations tactic, or are simply using philanthropic activity to dodge taxes. There is no easy way to determine the motivations behind these charitable groups, but there are at least substantial differences in how much is contributed from case to case.

South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford donated an estimated $800 million -- more than half of his current net worth -- to fund a new hospital system in his hometown. In 2006, Warren Buffett famously pledged to give more than 99% of his total wealth to charity. On the other hand, according to one estimate, the Waltons have given collectively less than $55 million, or an estimated .04% of their combined net worth.

The wealthiest person in each state list is based on Forbes's net worth estimates. 24/7 Wall St. determined each state’s wealthiest person based on Forbes’ frequently-updated estimates, and all values listed are as of December, 2015. When a husband and wife are listed by Forbes as the wealthiest in a given state, they are both included in the summary. This is also the case for siblings who inherited equal shares of a fortune, and are also tied as the wealthiest in a state. In each case, the wealthy individual’s state refers to their current residence, as determined by Forbes, and not by their birthplace or where their business is headquartered.

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