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An Open Letter to Senator Kirk in Support of the Congressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act of 2011.

June 13, 2011
By Pete Sepp

The Honorable Mark Kirk
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Kirk:

      On behalf of the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), I am pleased to offer our enthusiastic support for the Congressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act of 2011. Your legislation would comprehensively expand the circumstances under which Members of Congress may lose their pensions for committing offenses of the law, thereby offering better protection against abuses of the public purse as well as the public trust.

      As you know, NTU has long sought major reforms to retirement systems at all levels of government, including Congress’s own particularly comfortable arrangement. The combination of high accrual rates, lucrative retirement ages, and other factors make defined-benefit pensions for House and Senate Members two to three times more generous than those usually offered to similarly-salaried private-sector workers – and more generous than those provided to equally-paid Executive Branch employees. It is therefore no wonder that taxpayers, who often struggle to provide the most meager of retirement benefits for themselves, find Congress’s package so offensive. This is especially true since the contributions lawmakers provide to the system cover only a fraction of their typical lifetime payouts.

      Yet, the indignation taxpayers feel is compounded by the humiliation they must suffer when Members of Congress who commit grave crimes are allowed to continue drawing pensions. Since the 1980s, NTU has identified lawmakers convicted on charges ranging from bribery to fraud who were each receiving pensions worth tens of thousands of dollars annually (or more) – sometimes while serving prison terms.  According to our calculations, at least 16 living, former Members of Congress convicted of serious (at or approaching felony-level) charges are eligible for pensions whose combined yearly value is roughly $800,000. This conservative figure does not include deceased offenders.

      Thus, in 2007 taxpayers greeted with relief the declaration from Congressional leaders that the newly-passed Honest Leadership and Open Government Act had rectified this embarrassing problem. Unfortunately, the statute was not up to the task, and its weaknesses will only become more evident with future experience. In the course of legislative negotiations, Title IV of the Act left far too many possibilities open for pension transgressions against taxpayers from convicted lawmakers. The Congressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act would provide a prudent and welcome dose of additional reform, by doubling (to 20) the list of crimes sufficient to disqualify a lawmaker for federal pension benefits. These new triggers include acts such as obstruction of justice, expenditures to influence voting, racketeering, and tax evasion. Furthermore, your bill would apply the strictures to former Members convicted of such crimes while serving in any public office, not just Congress – a situation which, sadly, has already manifested itself.

      Regardless of what future direction reforms to Congress’s and other government pension systems may take, all Members can and should agree upon a starting point that spares taxpayers the truly noxious fate of being forced to subsidize the retirements of disgraced Representatives and Senators. Accordingly, NTU wholeheartedly commends and endorses the Congressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act. We look forward to working with you in convincing your colleagues to swiftly enact this legislation.

Pete Sepp
Executive Vice President


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