Sunday, January 14, 2007

Senate votes to deny pensions to convicted lawmakers

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press
Published Jan. 13, 2007
The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- Former representative 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 might not be so lucky.

The Senate yesterday voted 87 to 0 to strip the pensions from members of Congress convicted of white-collar crimes such as bribery, perjury, and fraud. That could result in benefit losses for some former lawmakers of more than $100,000 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 Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and sponsor of the measure with Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado.

The pension measure was attached to a comprehensive ethics and lobbying bill 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 occurred after a campaign in which they stressed the "culture of corruption" under GOP rule.

Cunningham, Republican of California, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison last year after pleading guilty to receiving $2.4 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.

In December, Robert W. Ney, Republican of Ohio, resigned from the House of Representatives 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 change Cunningham's military benefits .

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 Cunningham could garner benefits of about $64,000 with his military service, a sum that includes $36,000 from his eight terms in Congress.

The taxpayers union says there are roughly 20 former members convicted of serious crimes who qualify for pensions.

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