Thursday, January 18, 2007

Commit a Crime, Lose a Congressional Pension

The continuing investigation of corruption on Capitol Hill has triggered a move to strip any legislators convicted of certain offenses from receiving their pensions.  A bill introduced in the House and Senate, the Congressional Pension Accountability Act, would forfeit any pension earned by a Representative or Senator convicted of violating the federal bribery/gratuity law, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 201, a conspiracy to violate the law, and perjury or subornation of perjury.  Representative Bob Ney, the most recent Congressman to enter a guilty plea, would not fall under this provision (if it were in effect when he was in Congress) because he pleaded guilty to a false statement charge, so it would not affect his $29,000 pension.  Another bill introduced in the House, the Congressional Pension Forfeiture Act, would cover a broader array of criminal statutes, including perjury and

An offense within the purview of section 201 (bribery of public officials and witnesses), 203 (compensation to Members of Congress, officers, and others in matters affecting the Government), 204 (practice in United States Court of Federal Claims or the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit by Members of Congress), 219 (officers and employees acting as agents of foreign principals), 286 (conspiracy to defraud the Government with respect to claims), 287 (false, fictitious or fraudulent claims), 371 (conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States), 597 (expenditures to influence voting), 599 (promise of appointment by candidate), 602 (solicitation of political contributions), 606 (intimidation to secure political contributions), 607 (place of solicitation), 641 (public money, property or records), 1001 (statements or entries generally), 1341 (frauds and swindles), 1343 (fraud by wire, radio, or television), 1503 (influencing or injuring officer or juror), 1951 (interference with commerce by threats or violence), 1952 (interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises), or 1962 (prohibited activities) of title 18 or section 7201 (attempt to evade or defeat tax) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

A letter from the National Taxpayers Union (here) sent in November 2006 highlighted the pensions received by former Representatives James Traficant, in prison on a RICO conviction receiving a $40,000 annual pension, and Dan Rostenkowski, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud and still receives a $125,000 annual pension.  Not to worry, however, even the more stringent House bill would only take effect for violations in the 111th Congress and later, which doesn't begin until January 2009.  Any current legislators under investigation are not in danger of losing their pensions. (ph)

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