By Miriam Raftery
December 6, 2019 (San Diego) – Congressman Duncan D. Hunter today issued a statement which reads,"Shortly after the holidays I will resign from Congress. I has been an honor to serve the people of California's 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years."
The announcement comes after Hunter pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds for personal use. His sentencing is scheduled in March. He could face up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, the amount that he and his wife were accused of taking from the campaign coffers.
But prison and a hefty fine may not be the only penalties for his actions.
Members of Congress are vested to received a full pension after five years of service, though receiving pension benefits is deferred until age 62 for a member in Hunter’s age bracket. Acccording to Investopedia, currently Congressional pay is $174,000 per year, which, at an 80-percent rate, equates to a lifelong pension benefit of $139,200. All benefits are taxpayer-funded.
However, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 requires that a Congressional member forfeit his or her pension if convicted of certain felonies related to corruption, election crimes or official misconduct.
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service in August 2019, those crimes include conspiracy to commit an offense, the crime for which Hunter pled guilty. (Other offenses that result in loss of a pension under the Act include bribery, wire fraud, witness tampering, acting as a foreign agent, racketeering, perjury and more, if done while holding office.)
In addition, the Stock Act enumerates additional crimes for which a member should lose a pension, including false statements to the government, conflicts of interest, false claims, conspiracy to make false claims, embezzlement or theft of government funds or property, soliciting political contributions on federal property, obstruction of government, and tax evasion.
While the Office of Personnel Management does have discretion to allow a spouse or children of a convicted member to receive the member’s pension benefits and consider their financial needs, the Office must also consider whether the spouse or children participated in the offense of which the member was convicted and assure that convicted member does not benefit from any such payment.
Since Hunter’s wife, Margaret, also pled guilty to conspiracy to use campaign funds for personal use, it appears she would not be eligible to receive Hunter’s deferred pension, though potentially his children could.
Hunter, a Marine Corps combat veteran, did not serve long enough years to earn a military pension.
Following the announcement by Rep. Hunter that he will resign from the House following his guilty plea after the holidays, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder released the following statement:
“Someone convicted of egregiously abusing their office has no place in Congress. We called on Rep. Hunter to resign as soon as his guilty plea was in the books, and it is for the good of the country that he now is. Hunter tarnishes Congress every day he remains in office. If he truly wished to do the right thing, he would step down now. It is crucial that he obey the House Ethics Committee’s admonition that he not vote on the House floor, but there is something almost poetically ironic about a convicted criminal holding on to his office for the House’s consideration of impeachment.”