Those who violate the public trust while serving in elected office shouldn’t be rewarded with a generous pension supported by the tax dollars of the very people they betrayed.
Unfortunately, lax laws have allowed numerous congressional crooks to continue receiving small fortunes in ill-gotten pension dollars. Now, Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat, hopes to stop this unfortunate practice. It’s long overdue.
Prior to 2007, senators and House members could lose their pensions only if convicted of espionage or treason. That year, Congress beefed up the law by passing the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which denied congressional pensions to federal lawmakers who committed perjury, bribery or fraud in the course of their official duties.
That law was not retroactive, however, and allowed more than 20 congressional offenders to continue collecting their pensions despite felony convictions for crimes they committed while in office.
Five years later, Congress followed up with Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, which was supposed to strip members of their pensions upon final conviction for their crimes. Yet criminals can file endless appeals over several years to avoid final conviction and keep the money rolling in.
According to Demian Brady, vice president of research with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, loopholes in the existing corruption laws mean that “no member of Congress has ever been confirmed to have lost their taxpayer-funded pension after being convicted of a serious crime.”
Mr. Brady cites the case of Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Pennsylvania Democrat sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017 for charges that included wire fraud, mail fraud and racketeering. Yet he “continued receiving his pension even though he was convicted … because he had not exhausted his appeals.”
Now comes a further proposal sponsored by Sen. Rosen and Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, which has unanimously passed the Senate and is now headed to the House. It would bar members of Congress from collecting taxpayer-funded pensions if they are convicted of felonies related to their official duties and prevent them from continuing to receive such taxpayer support post-conviction by dragging out the appeals process.
Members would lose their pensions immediately upon conviction — even during the appeals process. If appeals are successful, they would be eligible for the full amount owed.
Mr. Brady aptly points out that ordinary Americans are not eligible to collect Social Security benefits while behind bars. Why shouldn’t members of Congress — who are in a position of public trust and should be held to a higher standard of conduct — face stricter consequences for violating that trust?
The House should quickly send this legislation to the president. Sen. Rosen should also consider a follow-up proposal that would expand the scope of crimes that result in forfeiture and increase transparency so taxpayers can be confident that reform efforts are working as intended.