Senate Unanimously Passes Kerry Bill to Deny Pensions to Dishonest Lawmakers
Today, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment authored by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the ethics bill. The amendment strives to restore some of the trust Congress has lost in recent years by cancelling taxpayer-funded pension benefits to Members of Congress convicted of serious ethics offenses - crimes such as bribery or conspiracy. The amendment passed 87-0, and the broader legislation is expected to come up for a final vote next week.
"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. 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. This legislation strips away the federal pensions of Members of Congress convicted of white collar crimes such as bribery and fraud - those lawmakers deserve nothing but shame."
By law, Congress cannot retroactively strip Cunningham's pension. Instead, the legislation approved today will go into effect in 2009.
Under current law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, causes a U.S. Representative or Senator to lose his Congressional pension. Members of Congress convicted of white collar crimes still receive these federal retirement benefits. The Kerry legislation will change existing law to ensure that the Congress no longer rewards unethical behavior at the expense of American taxpayers. Facing the largest Congressional bribery scandal since the 1980s, former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned from the House of Representatives after pleading guilty in federal court to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors and evading more than $1 million in taxes. In a plea agreement, Cunningham admitted to a pattern of bribery lasting close to five years, with federal contractors giving him Persian rugs, a Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, travel and hotel expenses, use of a yacht and a lavish graduation party for his daughter. Unless the law is changed, legislators who breach the public trust in the future, like Cunningham, will be allowed to continue receiving Congressional pensions of approximately $40,000 per year.
Under Kerry's bill, the following offenses would cause a Member of Congress to forfeit the Congressional pension: - Bribery of public officials and witnesses (Section 201 of Title 18);
Kerry Moves to Deny Pensions to Lawbreaking Lawmakers
- Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (Section 371 of Title 18); - Perjury committed under the statues of the United States or the District of Columbia in falsely denying the commission of bribery or conspiracy; and - Subordination of perjury committed in connection with the false denial or false testimony of another individual.
Although the bill is inspired by the crimes of former Congressman Duke Cunningham, the law would not be retroactive in scope, and therefore would not affect Cunningham directly. A retroactive law of that nature would be unconstitutional. Kerry and Salazar originally introduced this legislation on February 9, 2006.