Article by Jim BrownSome of the most corrupt former members of Congress are receiving perhaps the most beneficial pension system in all of America. That shouldn't sit right with American taxpayers, says one Washington observer -- and that's why he's encouraging them to bring it up with their representatives in Congress.
A coalition of 23 citizen groups recently called on Congress to end the practice of allowing convicted lawmakers to draw taxpayer-funded retirement benefits. The National Taxpayers Union says over the past 25 years, at least 20 lawmakers found guilty of felonies have received congressional retirement payments. Among that group is disgraced California Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who will receive $64,000 annually while serving eight years in a federal prison. Also included is former Ohio Democratic Congressman James Traficant, who was convicted of bribery and, like Cunningham, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison -- and who is receiving a $40,000 yearly pension.
Brian Darling, director of government relations at the Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation, says rewarding convicted felons who have abused their office is unfair to taxpayers. "I do think they probably deserve some monies," says Darling, "and they do deserve something -- they paid into Social Security, so they shouldn't lose benefits that are rightly owed to them." But apparently that is where he would draw the line. "[A] very beneficial and special pension system that only the elite members of Congress get may not be the appropriate way to give congressmen a 'golden parachute' out of Congress." The practice, says the Heritage Foundation spokesman, needs to change.
"It would make a lot of sense for Congress to take a second look at this issue," he suggests. "And maybe [for] the American public to make a few calls to their members of Congress to talk to them about it." That way, explains Darling, taxpayers would become more informed about the type of pension system their members of Congress are getting through their tax dollars. "These people who are calling in are paying these pensions, so they should know where the money is going and if there can be anything done to make sure that convicted felons aren't receiving pensions," he states.
Another member of the group of "elite" former lawmakers benefiting under the current system is Illinois Democrat Dan Rostenkowski, who served prison time for mail fraud. The former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee receives an annual pension of nearly $125,000. Currently the only way members of Congress can lose their pension is if they are convicted of treason.