No more criminals' pensions
Senators change rules for disgraced colleagues
Los Angeles Times
Yesterday, with disgraced ex-California representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham eligible to collect a congressional pension from behind bars, the Senate voted to deny taxpayer-funded retirement benefits to lawmakers convicted in the future of serious ethics offenses.
The action came as the Senate moves toward enacting ethics reforms, including stricter rules to end the secrecy around "earmarks," a controversial practice that contributed to congressional scandals involving Cunningham and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Critics have denounced earmarking, in which lawmakers secretly slip pet projects into spending bills, often without public notice and at the request of lobbyists who contribute to their campaigns. And they had accused the Senate's new Democratic leadership of writing a loophole-riddled bill that would have failed to publicly identify the sponsors of most earmarks.
But yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican and a leading critic of earmarking, said that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, reached agreement "so that every earmark is disclosed."
The deal came as the Senate voted 87-0 to expand the list of crimes under which a former lawmaker could be denied a pension to include bribery, conspiracy and perjury. Federal employees in all branches of government already forfeit their pensions if convicted of "crimes against the United States," such as treason.
"The best way to restore and rebuild the trust of the American people is to ensure that we stand firmly against members of Congress who betray the public trust," said Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and the measure's sponsor.
The legislation would not apply retroactively; Kerry said such a move would be unconstitutional.
Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty to taking .4 million in bribes from defense contractors who sought earmarks and to evading more than million in taxes. He is eligible for an estimated ,000 annual pension with his military service, including ,000 a year from his eight terms in Congress.
The measure enjoys strong bipartisan support in the House.
At least 20 former lawmakers convicted of crimes are eligible for taxpayer-funded pensions, some as high as 5,000 a year, according to the National Taxpayers Union, which supports denying pensions to lawmakers turned felons.
Former representative Jim Traficant, the Ohio Democrat serving eight years following his 2002 conviction of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, could be pulling in more than ,000, the group estimated. Former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski, the Illinois Democrat who served time for mail fraud and was later pardoned by President Clinton, could be collecting more than 5,000, the group said.
The figures are estimates because federal officials decline to disclose pension records for retired members of Congress.
Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union said that some former lawmakers convicted of crimes have even used their pensions to help pay their fines. http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070112/NEWS/70112051
Senate votes to deny pensions to convicted lawmakers
The Associated Press
Some former lawmakers convicted of serious crimes, and estimates of their possible congressional pensions.
The estimates, calculated by the National Taxpayers’ Union, assume convicted members are married, participated in the plan and choose to defer a certain amount of their pensions so their spouses can receive benefits after the members die. The NTU, an advocacy group, said its calculations also assume that lawmakers enrolled in the system at the beginning of congressional service.
WASHINGTON — Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, behind bars for bribery, can at least be consoled by the federal pension he’ll continue to collect. Current or future lawmakers convicted of crimes may not be so lucky.
The Senate today voted 87-0 to strip away the pensions of members of Congress convicted of white-collar crimes such as bribery, perjury and fraud. That could result in benefit losses of more than 0,000 a year.
“With this vote, we are preventing members of Congress who steal or cheat from receiving a lifelong pension that is paid for by the taxpayers,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., sponsor of the measure with Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
The pension measure was attached to a comprehensive ethics and lobbying bill that the Democratic-controlled Senate, trying to improve the image of Congress after the scandals of last year, took up as its first legislative act of the year.
The Democrats’ return to power in both the House and Senate came after a campaign in which they stressed the “culture of corruption” under GOP rule.
Cunningham, R-Calif., was sentenced to more than eight years in prison last year after pleading guilty to receiving .4 million in bribes from defense contractors.
Among the favors he received were a Rolls Royce, Persian rugs, antique furniture, use of a yacht and a lavish graduation party for his daughter.
Also last December, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, resigned after pleading guilty to conspiracy and making false statements in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Kerry’s office said that by law Congress cannot take away pensions retroactively and the so-called “Duke Cunningham Act” won’t affect the benefits of Cunningham or Ney. It would also not touch the military benefits of a veteran such as Cunningham.
Under current law, pensions can be forfeited only if a lawmaker commits crimes such as treason or espionage.
The National Taxpayers Union, which tracks congressional pensions, said Ney, who faces about two years in prison, would be eligible for about ,000 a year if he waits until 2016, when he turns 62. Cunningham could garner benefits of about ,000 with his military service, a sum that includes ,000 from his eight terms in Congress.
The NTU says there are roughly 20 former members convicted of serious crimes who qualify for pensions.
They include Rep. John Murphy, D-N.Y., convicted in the ABSCAM scandal in 1980, eligible for about ,000; Rep. Carroll Hubbard, an 18-year Democrat from Kentucky imprisoned for two years on conspiracy and official misconduct charges who could be collecting more than ,000; and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., who served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty in 1996 to two mail fraud charges but is potentially receiving benefits of 6,000 a year.
Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., who reached a plea bargain in 1995 on charges of misuse of public funds, is eligible for ,000.
The NTU cautioned that individual pension amounts for lawmakers are not a matter of public record and that participation is voluntary. The Kerry amendment also allows convicted members to get refunds for any personal contributions they make into 401(k)-type plans.
“Given the momentum on the House side, this just might be the year that Congress purges one of its most brazen perks,” said Pete Sepp of the NTU, which has led other advocacy groups in urging Congress to deny pensions to members convicted of crimes.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would take up similar legislation next Friday.
The House last spring approved similar language, as part of a lobbying and ethics package, to cut off the pensions of lawmakers convicted of bribery or acting as a foreign agent. It died when no agreement could be reached with the Senate on the package.
The Senate is expected to finish its work on the ethics and lobbying bill next week, after which -the issue would move to the House. If enacted into law, the pension denial provision would go into affect in 2009.
Figures are payment estimates for 2006 unless otherwise noted.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, eligible for ,000 in 2016. Convicted of bribery and other charges in 2006.
Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., ,000. Convicted of bribery in 2005.
Rep. John Rowland, R-Conn, ,400 in 2019. Convicted of official corruption in 2004 while serving of the governor of Connecticut.
Rep. James Traficant, R-Ohio, ,000. Convicted of numerous corruption charges in 2002.
Rep. Austin J. Murphy, D-Pa., ,000. Convicted of voter fraud in 1999.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, ,000. Convicted of financial disclosure irregularities in 1998.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., 6,000. Convicted of mail fraud in 1996.
Rep. Joe Kolter, D-Pa., ,000. Convicted of fraud and conspiracy in 1996.
Rep. Carroll Hubbard, D-Ky., ,500. Convicted of fraud and corruption in 1994.
Rep. Carl Perkins, D-Ky., eligible for ,000 in 2016. Convicted of fraud in 1994.
Rep. Larry Smith, D-Fla., ,000. Convicted of tax evasion in 1994.
Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., ,000. Convicted of fraud in a 1994 plea bargain.
Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Tex., ,000. Convicted of racketeering in 1993.
Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., ,000. Convicted of mail fraud and bribery in 1988.
Rep. Michael Myers, D-Pa., ,000. Convicted of conspiracy and accepting unlawful gratuity in 1980.
Rep. Frederick Richmond, D-N.Y., ,000. Convicted of tax evasion and drug possession in 1982.
Rep. John Murphy, D-N.Y., ,000. Convicted of conspiracy and accepting unlawful gratuity in 1980.
Source: National Taxpayers’ Union