Forbes: Perks Members Of Congress Give To Themselves – The Selfie Report Money28

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Once elected to Congress, members are in a rare and exclusive club. In the history of our nation, there have only been 10,363 House members and 1,307 U.S. Senators. 

And that club certainly has its benefits.

Our new OpenTheBooks Oversight Report, "Congressional Membership Has Its Privilege — Salaries, Pensions, Travel, and Other Taxpayer-Funded Perks" quantifies and breaks down the lavish perks associated with serving in Congress.

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Here are five major benefits each member of Congress receives: 

SALARY: The House Speaker makes $223,500, Majority and Minority Leaders earn $193,400, and the President Pro Tempore makes $193,400. Regular members earn $174,000. 

Outside income is restricted to eliminate conflicts-of-interest. However, we found significant loopholes in the ethics laws. Who knew that powerful members can be employed by federal contractors based in their districts?

For example, during a 13-year period, Vanderbilt University employed Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and paid him $250,000 in total salary (2005-2018). The university received $2.6 billion in federal contracts, grants, and direct payments from 2014-2018. The powerful congressman serves on the Budget Committee and on Oversight and Government Reform. Located in his district, Vanderbilt’s executives and employees are Cooper’s #1 campaign contributor ($135,261). 

Other examples of members in both parties with significant conflicts are detailed in our previous piece at Forbes

PENSION: As a federal employee, members of Congress can qualify for a pension in addition to Social Security. A member vests a taxpayer funded pension after five years of service and is eligible to receive a pension as early as 50. Full pensions are normally conferred at 62. 

For each year of service, a member’s annual pension increases by about $2,000. So, after six years of service, the member has earned a pension of approximately $12,000, or 6.75% of salary ($174,000). 

Federal pensions are legally classified as “private information” and not subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosures. So, taxpayers help fund and fully guarantee the payouts, but have no right to see who receives how much.

Furthermore, the congressional ethics laws are so weak that no member of Congress has ever been stripped of their pension because of a corruption conviction. 

WORKERS COMPENSATION: For job related injuries, members are covered under Worker’s Compensation Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance. This provides cash and medical benefits to workers who become injured or ill during the course of employment or to the family of survivors killed on the job. 

In 2012, Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) was approved for $138,400 in worker’s compensation and Social Security disability payments stemming from his bipolar disorder and depression. Jackson successfully argued that Congress made him mentally ill. 

During this period, Rep. Jackson was convicted of using about $750,000 in campaign funds for unlawful expenditures including vacations, celebrity memorabilia, and other items. We estimate, that if Jackson still qualifies today, then he has received approximately $1 million in payments since 2012. 

TRAVEL: Since 2005, members of Congress and their committee staffers have embarked on 16,367 trips. During this period, the top destinations were Israel, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and United Arab Emirates. 

Last year, the U.S. House spent $4.3 million on overseas travel. Our auditors combed through the disclosures and found some pricey trips taken in the summer of 2019. 

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) spent $23,000 on a one week trip to Australia. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spent $75,000 on an eleven day trip to Italy, Morocco and France. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) spent $14,357 in transportation costs to Germany, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, and France on a one week trip. 

Responding to our request for comment, Rep. Hudson’s spokesperson said, “All travel was preapproved and booked through the Combined Airlines Ticket Offices which handles Congressional travel.”

Committee staffers get approved for travel too. Three Appropriations Committee staffers flew to Mozambique and Malawi on a seven day trip at an airfare/transportation cost of $54,600, or $18,177 per person. Five Armed Service Committee staffers flew to Japan and Australia on a five day trip at an airfare/transportation cost of $103,493, or $20,698 per person. 

OTHER PERKS: The pin – which gets members around the lines; the license plate – which allows free parking sometimes in illegal zones; 72-percent subsidized health insurance; a $25 per month on-site Capitol Hill gym membership with a swimming pool, sauna, steam room, and paddleball.  

There is an onsite beauty salon and member dedicated subway to shuttle members around the Hill. Taxpayers spent $10MM over the last five-years on elevator doormen whose job it is to hit the buttons and hold doors. 

Furthermore, Congress exempted themselves from certain federal laws, i.e. the Freedom of Information Act, safety and health investigatory subpoenas, protections against retaliation for whistleblowers, etc. 

Members also have a dedicated settlement fund to get them out of hot water administered through the Office of Compliance. Monies from this fund are paid to settle workplace disputes on Capitol Hill. Since 1997, settlements totaling $17.6 million from 275 cases had an average settlement payout of $63,973. In 2018, ten cases were settled for a total payout of $338,816.   

Over the past 12 months, the Gallop public opinion congressional polling ranged from 17% approval to 31% approval. Why such disdain for Congress? 

One reason could be echoed by Mark Twain who famously stated, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in.”

 

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