Leave Congress in disgrace? Collect one million dollars

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Oregon Democratic Rep. David Wu is leaving Congress without his dignity — after donning a tiger costume and allegedly sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman — but he will have a generous congressional pension to ease the pain.

According to the National Taxpayers Union, Wu stands to benefit from nearly $1 million in pension payments. And his case is far from unique.

In fact, congressmen convicted of crimes — including former Reps. James Traficant of Ohio, William Jefferson of Louisiana and Duke Cunningham of California — can retire comfortably on the taxpayer’s dime after leaving the slammer.

Former New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner can also count on a hefty pension. He stands to collect over $1.2 million in pension payments if he retires after age 62.

“Other Members of Congress with ethical troubles or even outright convictions can and do collect pensions,” National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Pete Sepp told The Daily Caller.

According to Sepp, “Nothing that Weiner or Wu are alleged to have done would rise to the level of deprivation of pension under the law.” (RELATED: Wu bids adieu; Internet LOLs)

To qualify for a congressional pension, a member must serve for a minimum of five years — meaning that ethically-challenged former New York Congressmen Eric Massa and Christopher Lee won’t get pensions.

According to Sepp, the current law allowing for pension disqualification is better than it has been — but far from where it should be.

“In the fall of 2007 the ‘Honest Leadership and Open Government Act’ was signed into law,” Sepp said. “It contained a section which created a specific set of felony convictions for which Members of Congress could be deprived of their pensions. Prior to this time, only a conviction of the high crime of treason constituted grounds for such a thing.”

The 2007 law only disqualifies former congressmen from pensions if they commit a limited number of felonies and commit the crime(s) after the law took effect, according to Sepp.

“The issue is rather small monetarily, but as with just about anything involving Members of Congress, it has huge significance to the taxpayers — not only because this is a breach of public trust, but also because they can directly relate to issues involving pay and perks for lawmakers,” Sepp said.

The National Taxpayers Union is supporting the “Congressional Integrity and Pension Forfeiture Act of 2011,” sponsored by Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Illinois Republican Rep. Robert Dold. The bill would add to the list of crimes that can be used to revoke a former lawmaker’s pension.