By Adam Andrzejewski
Corrupt members of Congress deserve time in prison, not taxpayer-funded federal pensions. Even in Illinois, jailed governors lose their lucrative retirement annuities.
However, at the federal level, the rules were so lax that no member has ever been stripped of their congressional pension. The guilty plea of Rep. Chris Collins could change this.
Chris Collins resigned from Congress on October 1st and then pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI. Under a 2012 reform law, he could be the first member to be stripped of federal pension benefits. Even so, Collins will retain his 401(k), including the federal match, and health benefits.
Elected in 2012 and seated in 2013, Collins spent a little over six years in Congress.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com calculated that the disgraced congressman would receive an estimated $12,000 annual pension. Members of Congress vest in a retirement annuity benefit (pension) after only five-years. Collins would have collected approximately 6.75-percent of his $174,000 congressional salary.
Collins, who is 69, has a life expectancy of 84 years. Therefore, a stripped pension benefit would cost him at least $176,175 over the next 15 years.
But, why are we guessing at federal pension payouts? That’s because pension payouts to members of Congress and any federal worker are considered private information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statutes.
Releasing data on federal pensions will require an act of Congress. The law needs to be changed.
Our organization, and groups like Freedom Works, are leading the way. Working with U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), the legislation, Federal Employee Disclosure Transparency Act (H.R. 2612), would open the books on federal pensions for the first time in history.
Taxpayers deserve to know the details of the lucrative pensions of career bureaucrats and members of Congress. Basic questions deserve answers: How many years were worked, how much money was paid-in and by whom, how quickly did they break-even on their own contributions, and just how much did the taxpayers finance?
And if a member is convicted of a felony, then they should lose their federal pensions.
Because of a loophole in the law, currently jailed former representatives Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA) are continuing to collect pension benefits – for the last couple of years – even after being convicted of crimes that seemingly would require pension forfeiture.
Even convicted congressman such as Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Bob Ney (R-OH), Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), Jim Traficant (D-OH), and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) are receiving or are still eligible to receive their pensions.
Disgraced Rep. Chris Collins et al are only further evidence of the pressing need to bring transparency and further reforms to federal pensions.