(Evgen_Prozhyrko/Getty Images) Washington bureaucrats have stymied efforts to ensure that a law against the practice is being enforced.
Members of Congress convicted of corruption should be legally prohibited from receiving taxpayer money. This is simple common sense, as even Congress itself agrees. Yet federal bureaucrats have stymied efforts to make it so.
After several high-profile scandals involving politicians, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) of 2007 specified corruption-related crimes that would lead to the loss of a lawmaker’s congressional pension. Additional crimes were added to the list in 2012 by the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act.
Since these restrictions could not be applied retroactively, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) monitored the criminal cases of crooked politicians to see who would be the first to lose a pension. It looked like it would be Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) who was found guilty of 23 charges of corruption and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2016. Fattah’s 22 years in Congress would have entitled him to a $55,000 annual pension assuming he opted for the maximum benefit level, had he not been convicted.
Yet after reaching out to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency responsible for administering such benefits, NTUF was informed that Fattah remained eligible due to a loophole in HLOGA: The law applied only upon “final conviction” of a crime, which happens when all appeals have been exhausted. Since the appeals process can often drag on for years, this was a huge gift to convicted lawmakers.
In 2017, after the loophole was identified, Representative Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) introduced legislation to close it. Her bill would have OPM withhold payment of pensions upon conviction. If a lawmaker’s convictions were overturned on appeal, he would then receive the full amount owed to him, but he wouldn’t collect taxpayer dollars while the appeals process played out. That way, a fair balance could be struck between protecting taxpayers and protecting a lawmaker’s due-process rights. (It’s an approach adopted by Senators Jacky Rosen [D., Nev.] and Rick Scott [R., Fla.], who
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