Congresswoman Claudia Tenney Introduces No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act of 2017
Bill will Close Loophole that Allows Public Officials Convicted of Corruption to Collect a Taxpayer Funded Pension
Today, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-22) introduced the No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act of 2017, H.R. 4314. This bill would close an existing loophole that allows members of Congress convicted of bribery, perjury, conspiracy or other related crimes to continue collecting their taxpayer funded pension. Existing law only requires former members of Congress to forfeit their pension when they have exhausted their appeals in full, not simply upon a lawful conviction.
The recent case of former Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) has shown that a member of Congress found guilty of corruption in a court of law can continue to collect their pension, so long as they have not exhausted their right of appeal.
“Loopholes like this enable career politician syndrome and the pervasive culture of corruption that have become the status-quo in both Washington and Albany. The job of a public official is to advocate for their communities and constituents, not benefit from the office they hold. Any elected official who betrays the public’s trust and is convicted of corruption should immediately have their pension revoked. The No Pensions for Corrupt Politicians Act will end a loophole that benefits political elites at the expense of hardworking taxpayers,” said Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. “This bill is the first step of many to reform our government and restore the Jeffersonian ideal of the citizen-legislator.”
In 2007, Congress passed a bipartisan law that prevented members of Congress convicted of bribery, perjury, conspiracy or other crimes related to their official duties from collecting their taxpayer-funded pension after a “final conviction.” Final Conviction has been interpreted to mean after all appeals have been exhausted. This allows members to continue to receive pensions even after a conviction, so long as it is under appeal, a process which can take years.
A similar initiative that would give judges the ability to revoke a pension from a state official convicted of a crime, was considered as a ballot proposal in New York State on November 7, 2017. The proposal passed overwhelmingly, 66.69% to 24.74%, according to the New York State Board of Elections. However, this measure would only apply to convictions on or following January 1, 2018.
A longtime champion of government ethics reform, in the state Assembly, Rep. Tenney cosponsored a bill which would strip pension and retirement benefits from a public official convicted of corruption. Rep. Tenney also cosponsored a bill that would move public officials from a public pension plan to a defined contribution plan.
As of 2015, 14 former New York State lawmakers convicted of a crime received nearly $531,000 in taxpayer funded pensions annually.
In 2015, the leaders in both houses of the New York State Legislature were convicted on felony corruption charges. Disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was found guilty of seven felonies for accepting nearly $4 million in bribes and kickbacks, receives a pension of nearly $80,000 a year. While former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted on felony corruption charges along with his son for conspiracy, extortion and bribery, receives a nearly $90,000 taxpayer funded pension annually.
Rep. Tenney was the first to call for Silver’s resignation in 2012 after it emerged that he was using taxpayer funds to cover up sexual harassment of young women by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Rep. Tenney renewed her call in 2013 before the vote for Speaker of the Assembly, and again in 2015 when he was arrested by federal authorities. Furthermore, Rep. Tenney was among the first to call for the resignation of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos after he was arrested on federal corruption charges.
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