(Alexandria, VA) -- As Congressional Democratic leaders pondered their promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington, a diverse coalition of 23 citizen groups has suggested a first step: end the slimy practice of allowing convicted lawmakers to draw taxpayer-subsidized retirement benefits. The organizations, led by the 350,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), delivered their reform message this week in a letter to House Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader-Elect Harry Reid.
"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," the joint statement asserted.
Besides NTU, signatories of the statement include Ralph Nader's Congressional Accountability Project, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Family Research Council.
Currently, no Member of Congress is required to forfeit a pension unless convicted of crimes related to treason and espionage. As a result, over the past 25 years at least 20 lawmakers guilty of other serious offenses have enjoyed Congressional retirement payments.
For example, NTU calculates that former Congressman "Duke" Cunningham was eligible for an initial annual payout of as much as $64,000. Regular cost of living adjustments boost these benefits; for example, convicted Representative Dan Rostenkowski qualified for a $96,000 pension in 1995 that would have since swelled to nearly $125,000 this year.
Congressional pension benefits are two to three times more generous than those normally offered to similarly paid private-sector workers, and even exceed the standard for most federal executives. There is also a lucrative, supplemental 401(k)-style plan.
The House's version of this year's (stalled) ethics legislation contained a pension-forfeiture provision that applied only to convictions for bribery, acting as an agent of a foreign principal, or related conspiracy for these two offenses committed after the 109th Congress. The coalition seeks a simpler, broader approach that more fully meets public expectations.
"Lawmakers should overhaul the entire Congressional pension system to bring it in line with economic and fiscal reality," the signatories concluded. "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."
Ed. Note: For the full text of the letter, and more background on the Congressional pension issue, visit the National Taxpayers Union's website at www.ntu.org.