The Congressional Pension Accountability Act, or “The Duke Cunningham Act”, introduced by Senators Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), targets the so-called “culture of corruption” in Washington by cancelling taxpayer-funded pension benefits to Members of Congress who are convicted of serious ethics offenses – crimes such as bribery or conspiracy.
“The only thing crazier than giving a member of Congress convicted of a crime a federal pension is the fact that we still need a bill to prevent a convict from receiving their pension,” said Senator Salazar in a press release.
Under current law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, causes U.S. Representatives and Senators to lose their Congressional pensions. Members of Congress convicted of white collar crimes still receive these federal retirement benefits.
The amendment draws its name reference from former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who resigned from the House of Representatives last year after pleading guilty in federal court to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors and evading more than $1 million in taxes. A similar law, the Public Trust and Accountability Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2005. That bill would have added a list of white collar crimes including bribery, solicitation of gifts, perjury, making false claims and lying to a grand jury, to the offenses that would result in loss of federal pension benefits (see US House Proposes Bill to Take Pensions from Federal Criminals ).
Under the Kerry/Salazar bill , the following offenses would cause a Member of Congress to lose his or her Congressional pension:
- Bribery of public officials and witnesses (Section 201 of Title 18);
- Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (Section 371 of Title 18);
- Perjury committed under the statues of the United States or the District of Columbia in falsely denying the commission of bribery or conspiracy; and
- Subordination of perjury committed in connection with the false denial or false testimony of another individual.
Although the bill is inspired by the crimes of former Congressman Duke Cunningham, the law would not be retroactive in scope, and therefore would not affect Cunningham directly. A retroactive law of that nature would be unconstitutional. Kerry and Salazar originally introduced this legislation on February 9, 2006.
If passed, the law will go into affect in 2009.
Editor's Note: The legislation was passed 87-0 by the U.S, Senate on Friday.