Bipartisan Legislation Would Cut Off Pensions to Corrupt Politicians

The No CORRUPTION Act, introduced by Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Rick Scott (R-FL), would close a loophole that allows former members of Congress to collect taxpayer-funded pensions after they've been sentenced to jail.

During the 1980s and 1990s, several scandals involving powerful politicians sent to jail for corruption brought attention to this issue. The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and NTU Foundation have a long history of paving the path towards reform of excessive congressional perks and to prevent sentenced public officials from continuing to collect benefits. In March of 1995, NTU research determined that at least 13 former lawmakers convicted of offenses such as bribery and tax evasion were collecting taxpayer-funded benefits, some doing so while sitting in jail. Other convicted lawmakers, ranging from Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL) (1995) to James Traficant (D-OH) (2003) to Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) (2005) subsequently joined the list.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was passed in 2007 to stop corrupt members from receiving congressional pensions while behind prison bars. The law included several corruption-related crimes that would lead to forfeiture. In 2012, the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act expanded the list of crimes that would strip a members pension and would hold former members accountable for crimes committed in other public offices.

Unfortunately, taxpayers were left on the hook. NTU Foundation was the first to shed light on a major loophole in previous reform efforts when we discovered that former Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA) remained eligible for his estimated $55,000 pension (plus annual cost-of-living adjustments) despite Fattah being handed a prison term of 10 years for corruption in office.

Under the previous reform laws, a pension is only stripped once the lawmaker is "finally convicted" — meaning that pensions would still be paid out until the appeals process runs its course, which could take several years. What’s more, pensions paid out during this appeals process would not be clawed back even after final conviction.

As NTU’s Alex Milliken stated in Axios, "Those who serve in Congress should be held to the highest of standards in order to instill trust and confidence in our government.”

The No CORRUPTION Act would finally put a stop to paying out pensions upon conviction. If a member's appeal is subsequently successful, the annuity amount would be fully paid out retroactively. This is an important reform that would balance taxpayers’ interest with the constitutional rights of the accused. NTUF applauds this sensible approach to prevent taxpayers from paying out generous pensions to corrupt politicians.