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Jesse Ventura doesn’t hold back when it comes to criticizing government.
As a former governor of Minnesota, he’s seen his share of politics on both sides of the aisle and details in his new book, "DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in Government," why he likens the two mainstream political parties to the infamous street gangs. Ventura notes that while gang activity generally affects neighborhoods, the actions of both parties affect the nation.
"There’s 21 congressmen and senators that have been convicted of felonies that still get their retirement, even in jail," Ventura said in an interview with MyCentralJersey.com, ahead of a Sept. 16 appearance at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. "They don’t have to wait until they’re 65."
There are quite a few congressmen and senators who have been convicted of felonies, but multiple public databases with conflicting information about the number of convicted federal lawmakers makes it impossible to assess an exact number. We were intrigued, however, by the claim that federal lawmakers can collect taxpayer-funded pensions while incarcerated. And short of those officials being convicted of treason or espionage, it’s true.
Let’s look at how pensions work for members of Congress.
Officials participate in one of two retirement systems, depending on when they were first elected to the House or Senate. But they do not forfeit their pensions or accumulated retirement income if indicted, or convicted of most felonies.
That struck a nerve with the National Taxpayers Union which, in mid-2011, sent a letter to Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican, to express support for his bill to increase the number of circumstances under which a member of Congress could lose his pension.
"Since the 1980s, NTU has identified lawmakers convicted on charges ranging from bribery to fraud who were each receiving pensions worth tens of thousands of dollars annually (or more) – sometimes while serving prison terms," NTU Executive Vice President Pete Sepp wrote. The NTU advocates for lower taxes.
But can a member of Congress simultaneously receive a taxpayer-funded pension while incarcerated?
"The short answer is yes," John David, a senior research fellow with the Conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an e-mail. "Times have changed to some extent, but if the Member is not convicted of one of the offenses that would cost him/her the pension, it will be paid as promised -- even to prison."
Congressmen and senators can lose their pensions if they are convicted of a national security offense or a crime relating to public corruption and abuse of one’s official position, according to the 2008 Congressional Research Service report "Status of a Senator Who Has Been Indicted for or Convicted of a Felony."
So, there are circumstances in which a member of Congress can’t receive pension benefits.
As for the rest of Ventura’s claim, members don’t have to be 65, either, to get their retirement.
A 2007 Congressional Research Service report, "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress," states members are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. The age requirement drops to 50 for member with 20 years of service or any age after 25 years of service.
Ventura did not return three requests for comment.
Ventura claimed in an interview that "there’s 21 congressmen and senators convicted of felonies that still get their retirement, even in jail. They don’t have to wait until they’re 65."
For this fact-check, we looked only at the claim that federal lawmakers convicted of felonies and can still collect retirement benefits while in jail. We attempted to count the number of convicted national lawmakers, but there are multiple public databases with conflicting information on the number of congressmen and senators convicted of felonies.
In most cases, a congressman or senator convicted of a felony can receive his pension as long as the charge is not one that violates national security or relates to public corruption and abuse of official position.
Members also receive pensions based on completed years of service, not an age requirement of 65.
We rate the claim Mostly True.
To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.
MyCentralJersey.com, "Former pro wrestler, Minn. governor coming to New Brunswick," Sept. 15, 2012, accessed Sept. 27, 2012
Amazon.com, "DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in Government," Jesse Ventura, accessed Sept. 28, 2012
ProPublica.com, "Does Stevens’ Conviction Disqualify Him from the Senate?" Oct. 27, 2008, accessed Sept. 28, 2012
Yahoo News, "Convicted Congressmen (sic) Randy 'Duke' Cunningham Continues to Receive Federal Pension," May 31, 2007, accessed Oct. 1, 2012
Congressional Research Service, "Status of a Senator Who Has Been Indicted for or Convicted of a Felony," Oct. 22, 2008, accessed Oct. 8, 2012
E-mail interviews with Pete Sepp, executive vice president, National Taxpayers Union, Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, 2012
National Taxpayers Union, "Report on Estimated Pension Benefits for Members of Congress Convicted of Crimes, 1980-Present," May 2011, accessed Sept. 28, 2012
National Taxpayers Union, letter from Pete Sepp, executive vice president, to The Honorable Mark Kirk, U.S. Senate, June 13, 2011, accessed Sept. 28 and Oct. 1, 2012
E-mail interviews with John David, senior research fellow, The Heritage Foundation, Oct. 3 and 17, 2012
E-mail interview with Lauren Farber, spokeswoman, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Oct. 9, 2012
"CREW’s Most Corrupt 2010: Unfinished Business," Oct. 10, 2012
CNN.com, Anderson Cooper Blog, "Convicted congressmen collect public pensions," Jan. 3, 2007, accessed Oct. 17, 2012
Congressional Research Service, "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress," 2007, accessed Oct. 23, 2012
Congressional Research Service, "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress," Jan. 5, 2012, accessed Oct. 23, 2012
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