WASHINGTON – Republican House members disturbed that their former GOP colleague Randy "Duke" Cunningham will get to keep his pension despite pleading guilty to bribery want to pass a law to strip federal pensions from white-collar criminals.
Under federal law, only a conviction for a crime against the United States, such as treason or espionage, can cause a member of Congress or other federal employee to lose his or her government pension.
That means Cunningham, a California Republican, will keep his pension despite admitting taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and others in exchange for government contracts.
Cunningham's congressional pension would be around $40,000 per year, according to an Office of Personnel Management formula. He resigned last month and faces 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in February.
"It's time to reassure the American people that we are serious about upholding ethical standards," Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Wednesday.
"There's no doubt that Duke Cunningham is the present impetus for our efforts," he added.
Terry and five other Republicans spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday to introduce the "Public Trust and Accountability Act." The bill would add 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 pensions. The legislation would apply to all federal employees.
Similar legislation by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would apply only to members of Congress. The House passed a bill like that in 1996 but it didn't make it through the Senate.
Various members of Congress, mostly Republicans, are under scrutiny for possible ethics violations, and lawmakers said there was a critical mass in support of denying pensions to white-collar criminals.
"I think it's something we need to do in light of everything that's gone on," said Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla.