Former Illinois Rep. Rostenkowski Dies at 82

CHICAGO -- Former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the Chicago Democrat who became the leading architect of congressional tax policy in the Reagan era but later went to federal prison for corruption, died Wednesday, a family friend said. He was 82. 1/4

Rostenkowski, who served 18 terms before losing in 1994, died surrounded by family at his home in Lake Benedict, Wis., friend Ellen Tully told The Associated Press. He had been treated for prostate cancer in the 1990s.

As House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rostenkowski was known as a consensus builder and a master of legislative tactics. He is credited with leading a 1983 effort to rescue Social Security from insolvency and pushing through a sweeping 1986 overhaul of the nation's tax system.

But Rostenkowski himself acknowledged that his legacy would always be tainted by his stint in federal prison.

"I know that my obituary will say, 'Dan Rostenkowski, felon,' and it is something that I have to live with,"' he said in a 1998 broadcast interview with Robert Novak and Mark Shields.

In 2000, however, then-President Bill Clinton pardoned Rostenkowski. Two prominent Republicans, former President Gerald R. Ford and former House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel were among those urging the pardon.

Rostenkowski's problems began in 1992 when a grand jury in Washington charged him with 17 counts of misusing government and campaign funds.

The scandal forced him to step down as chairman and led to his 1994 defeat by Republican unknown Michael Patrick Flanagan, who became the first GOP congressman from Chicago in 35 years.

It was part of a Republican sweep that returned the GOP to power in both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1950s. (Flanagan served just one term before being ousted by then-Democratic state Rep. Rod Blagojevich, who later became governor -- and was ousted from office in his own scandal in January 2009.)

In the end, Rostenkowski pleaded guilty two counts of mail fraud. He admitted in his plea agreement that he had converted office funds to his own use for gifts such as Lenox china and armchairs.

He admitted hiring people on his congressional payroll who did little or no official work -- but took care of his lawn, took photographs at political events and family weddings, helped his family's business and supervised the renovation of his house.

Even after pleading guilty, Rostenkowski continued to say that what he did should have been counted as a violation of House rules -- not a crime.

Rostenkowski served 17 months in prison, mainly at the federal government's correctional center at Oxford, Wis. After his release, he spoke to a prison reform group and joked about "my Oxford education."