Outcry Over Congressional Pensions for Convicted Members

Nov 30, 2006 3:23pm

The new Democratic leadership faces pressure to end taxpayer-funded pensions to misbehaving members of Congress. But even a new law will be too late for former Congressmen Duke "Randall" Cunningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley, who all left Congress in disgrace this year. They will still get their generous Congressional pensions no matter what.  Over 20 civic organizations claiming to have millions of members sent a letter to the new Democratic leadership demanding that they immediately pass a law taking away pensions from members of Congress who’ve been convicted of a felony. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Foley Keeps Pension Despite Scandal Generous Pensions for Convicted Former Members of Congress Click Here to Check Out Who’s Blowing Hot, Cool and Smoke on the Brian Ross Homepage "The typical American is already angry that members of Congress get such generous pensions, two to three times more generous than what a similarly paid executive would get in the private sector," says Pete Sepp, Vice President of the Taxpayer’s Union and one of the letter’s authors. "Then they hear that lawmakers that have been convicted of serious crimes keep collecting the payments, well, they just blow through the roof." A bill passed by the House in May took pensions away from members convicted of bribery or corruption.  But it remains stalled in "conference negotiations" and appears unlikely to pass before the end of the session. Regardless, the current bill is not retroactive so Ney and Cunningham are guaranteed their pensions. Ney will get $29,000 a year after age 60, and Cunningham is already collecting $64,000 a year while in prison. According to Sepp, the amount grows with the cost of living each year. Even if former Congressman Foley ends up being charged and convicted in connection with his lewd Internet exchanges with minors, he will still get his $32,000-a-year pension, according to Sepp.  The current proposed law is not retroactive and also stipulates that members be convicted of corruption or bribery, with which Foley is unlikely to be charged. Sepp is appalled the proposed law is so narrow. "There are a whole horde of crimes that lawmakers commit in office from embezzlement to capital crimes that are very serious and deserve the same kind of treatment," he says. Some 15 other disgraced former members of Congress are also collecting their pensions. Convicted Illinois Rep. Dan Rotstenkowski still draws over $100,000 a year. Sepp and others say if the new Democratic leadership is serious about cleaning up congressional corruption, passing legislation halting taxpayer-funded pensions to convicted felons is an easy way to do it.  "If Nancy Pelosi really wants to clean up the swamp in Washington, if they can’t agree on this one point that people who commit crimes shouldn’t profit from it at the expense of taxpayers…there will be no ethics reform in Congress," Sepp says.  "Fiscally, it’s nothing but chump change, but ethically it means a whole lot to the American people." A spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi told ABC News that ethics reform in Congress is a top priority for the speaker-elect, but that it wouldn’t be part of her first 100 hours agenda because she wants there to be congressional committee hearings on the issue.

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