Those who betray public trust should pay for their deceit



If ever there was a time for both Congress and the Ohio Legislature to enact restrictions on pensions for crooked elected officials, the time is now.
In Congress, the ball is rolling pretty well, with strong-though-imperfect pension provisions included in the new ethics law.
In Ohio, State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown is trying again to get a bill passed that would cancel the pension benefits of any public official or employee who was convicted of a felony. Hagan sponsored a similar bill when he was in the Ohio Senate, but it didn't even get a committee hearing.
Republicans in the Legislature who stonewalled that bill did themselves no favors. Passing the bill four or five years ago would have sent a message throughout the state that corruption was not going to be taken lightly.
What might have been
Without the subsequent scandals that have come to be known as Noegate, after Toledo wheeler and dealer Tom Noe, it is unlikely that Democrats would have registered a near sweep of statewide offices last November.
Republicans still control the Ohio General Assembly, and they could bury Hagan's proposal again, if they choose. But those who will be running for re-election in 2008 must know that they will have a better chance of success if they can show they tried to take a bite out of corruption.
A public that sees convicted congressmen collecting pensions that exceed the salaries of many taxpayers, want government at every level to put a stop to such abuses. Our own former U.S. representative, James A. Traficant Jr., is eligible for a pension estimated at 40,000, though he was convicted and expelled from the House. Former California Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigned from the House after pleading guilty in federal court to receiving 2.4 million in bribes from military contractors. He is in prison and will get about the same pension as Traficant. Former Illinois Rep. Dan Rostenkowski pleaded guilty to mail fraud and still receives a 125,000 annual pension. And Bob Ney from nearby Bellaire, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison and resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to conspiracy counts, will be eligible for a pension of nearly 30,000.
Every legislature in the nation should be doing everything it can to end such travesties of justice.

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