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Letter


No Congressional Pensions for Felons

November 28, 2006

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid:

On behalf of the millions of taxpayers represented by the groups listed below, we urge you to make Congressional pension reform a priority at the start of the 110th Congress. To restore faith in accountable government, we must end the practice of rewarding lawmakers who abuse the law with plush pension packages funded by the American taxpayer. We would applaud your addressing this long-overlooked issue.

As you know, Congress has constituted a retirement system for itself that includes pension and 401(k)-style plans, whose payments are far more generous than what similarly-paid workers in the private sector typically receive. Furthermore, American taxpayers directly subsidize retired lawmakers' benefit payouts at rates of between 50 and 80 percent (without even including the contributions Members of Congress make from the salaries funded by taxpayers).

Since the early 1960s, only a conviction of a crime such as treason or espionage has constituted grounds for forfeiture of a Congressional pension, leaving more than 20 lawmakers who have committed other serious offenses to continue drawing benefits. The most recent example of this insult to taxpaying Americans involves Representative Robert Ney, who could qualify for a full deferred pension of roughly $29,000 during his first eligible year of retirement, along with substantial investment assets. Historically, however, the problem has been bipartisan. Democratic Congressman James Traficant, who was expelled in 2002, could be receiving an inflation-adjusted benefit of nearly $40,000, while Representative Daniel Rostenkowski's potential pension, including cost of living adjustments, could exceed $125,000 this year. While the desire to "close ranks" in support of perks may be strong, giving Congressional pensions to felons does not pass the "smell test" with most citizens outside the Beltway.

Many would argue that Congressional service is a civic honor and is therefore not an appropriate position for receiving a career-style pension. Lawmakers should overhaul the entire Congressional pension system to bring it in line with economic and fiscal reality. Until that time, we hope you will lend your support as Leaders to immediately enact legislation that will automatically deny taxpayer-funded retirement benefits to a Representative or Senator convicted of any felony, during or after Congressional service.

Sincerely,

Pete Sepp
Vice President for Communications,
National Taxpayers Union

Doug Bandow
Vice President, Citizen Outreach Project

George Anderson
Ethics in Government Group

F. Patricia Callahan
President, American Association of Small Property Owners

Rose Bogaert
Chair, Wayne County Taxpayers Association, Inc.

Paul Gessing
President, Rio Grande Foundation

Steve Ellis
Vice President of Programs, Taxpayers for Common Sense

Gwen Marshall
Georgians for Open Government

Doug Kagan
Chair, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom

Jeffrey Mazzella
President, Center for Individual Freedom

Ron Marshall
Chairman, The New Grady Coalition

Kevin McLaughlin
President, Free the Eagle

Tom McClusky
Vice President of Government Affairs, Family Research Council

Michael Ostrolenk
Co-founder/National Director, Liberty Coalition

James Murtagh
Doctors for Open Government
and
Semmelweis Society International

Thomas Schatz
President, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Gary Ruskin
Director, Congressional Accountability Project

Dane vonBreichenruchardt
President, U. S. Bill of Rights Foundation

David Strom
President, Taxpayers League of Minnesota

Tim Wise
President, Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc.

Laura MacCleery
Director, Congress Watch
Public Citizen

Melanie Sloan
Executive Director
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

William Westmiller
National Chairman, Republican Liberty Caucus