Bush signed into law today the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. John Kerry welcomed the signing into law of a broad package of Senate reform legislation – rules that alter everything from lobbyist conduct to employment rules for Senate spouses. Kerry authored one of the key provisions of the legislation: The Congressional Pension Accountability Act, or “The Duke Cunningham Act.”
The provision cancels taxpayer-funded pension benefits to Members of Congress who are convicted of serious ethics offenses – crimes such as bribery or conspiracy. It was written to target former Congressman Duke Cunningham, whose convictions forced him to resign from Congress, but will still receive a pension from taxpayers.
“The American people voted for accountability last November, and this Congress has delivered,” said Kerry. “This bill will help hold all Members of Congress to a higher ethical standard, and rightly punish those who see the honor of holding public office as an opportunity to abuse the public trust.”
The full summary of the bill’s provisions are as follows:
Honest Leadership and Open Government Act
– New transparency for lobbyist bundling and political campaign fund activity, as well as other financial contributions.
– Greater transparency in earmarking and the legislative process.
– Limits lavish convention parties.
– Ends K-Street Project by prohibiting Members of Congress and their staff from attempting to influence employment decisions in exchange for political access.
– A strong lobbyist gift ban by prohibiting lobbyists and their clients from giving gifts, including free meals and tickets, to Senators and their staffs.
– Limits on privately funded travel by barring lobbyists and their private-sector clients from paying for multi-day travel trips by Senators and their staffs.
– Restrictions on corporate flights.
– Strong revolving doors restrictions by increasing the “cooling off” period for Senators from one to two years before they can lobby Congress; prohibits senior Senate staff from lobbying contacts with the entire Senate for one year, instead of just their former employing office.
– Requires lobbyists for the first time to file reports electronically in a public, searchable database; and increases civil and criminal penalties for knowingly violating lobbying disclosure rules.
Kerry’s “Duke Cunningham Act”
The Kerry Amendment was unanimously passed in the Senate and House in January. Under the final ethics bill, the following offenses would cause a Member of Congress to forfeit the 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);
– Officers and employees acting as agents of foreign principals (Section 219 of Title 18);
– Fraud by wire, radio, or television, including as part of a scheme to deprive citizens of honest services (Section 1343 of Title 18
– An offense relating to prohibited foreign trade practices by domestic concerns (under Section 104(a) of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977;
– Engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity (Section 1957 of title 18)
– Tampering with a witness, victim or an informant (Section 1512 of Title 18)
– Racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (Chapter 96 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
– Subornation of perjury committed in connection with the false denial or false testimony of another individual.
Facing the largest Congressional bribery scandal since the 1980s, former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham resigned from the House of Representatives after pleading guilty in federal court to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors and evading more than $1 million in taxes. In a plea agreement, Cunningham admitted to a pattern of bribery lasting close to five years, with federal contractors giving him Persian rugs, a Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, travel and hotel expenses, use of a yacht and a lavish graduation party for his daughter. Unless the law is changed, legislators who breach the public trust in the future, like Cunningham, will be allowed to continue receiving Congressional pensions of approximately $40,000 per year.
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.