Convicted Representative Fortenberry Faces Jail Time and Loss of His Congressional Pension Perk

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) was found guilty yesterday of lying to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation about campaign donations made to him with funds from a foreign national. He now faces a possible sentence of up to five years for each of the three felonies for which he was convicted. The guilty verdict could also cost him his congressional pension, worth up to an estimated $46,000 per year based on calculations by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

Thanks to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) of 2007, Members of Congress who are convicted of certain crimes will forfeit their congressional pension, which pays two to three times more than pensions offered to similarly-salaried workers in the private sector. The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act of 2012 added to the list of crimes that would result in forfeiture, including the charges that Fortenberry was convicted of: making false statements to the government (18 U.S.C. §1001).

Fortenberry has served over 17 years in the House of Representatives. NTUF calculates he would stand to collect an annuity worth up to $46,000 if he maximized his pension benefit. For his years of service, Fortenberry would be eligible to start collecting his pension when he reaches age 62 later this year in December.

Pursuant to the STOCK Act, Fortenberry stands to forfeit his pension. However, the benefit is not cut off until "final conviction" for the charges. This provides an opportunity for convicted members to continue to collect their pension, even if they have been sentenced to jail, as long as there are ongoing appeals. 

Legislation in Congress, the No Congressionally Obligated Recurring Revenue Used as Pensions To Incarcerated Officials Now Act or the No CORRUPTION Act, would close this loophole. Members convicted under the HLOGA or STOCK Act crimes would immediately forfeit their pension upon conviction. If an appeal is successful, they would then be eligible for the full amount owed to them. This would prevent elected officials who have abused the public trust from collecting taxpayer-funded benefits. NTUF shed light on this loophole in 2017 when we learned that former Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) was still eligible for his $55,000 pension even though he was convicted and sentenced.

The No CORRUPTION Act, introduced by Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Rick Scott (R-FL) was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate last December and awaits action in the House.