I was just over at one of my favorite joints, Mirror on America. There, I learned about the proverbially silver lined story of the recent conviction of 84-year-old Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). I don’t know how I missed this one, but its worth pointing out.
A jury recently found him guilty on seven counts of attempting to conceal over $250,000 worth of free home renovations and other gifts received from a wealthy contractor. On the surface, this conviction is a blow to Stevens; given the length of his political career which spans over four decades (almost as long as Alaska has been apart of the Union). He is attempting to garner support from both his colleagues and constituents as he appeals the decisions. Getting constituent support may be a little more daunting considering that – in a twist of irony – Stevens has simultaneously lost his seat in the Senate to challenger Mark Begich.
While this may be considered a ray of sunshine for people who didn’t particularly care for Stevens (or his homegirl for that matter), I’m not celebrating this as some major victory for justice and Congressional purity.
For starters, with his status as a former United States Senator, Stevens will still collect his $122,000/year pension; which includes cost of living increases while incarcerated. And rest assured, while locked up (likely for a very limited time once Bush begins pardoning criminals in a few weeks), the good Senator from Alaska will definitely be on the receiving end of high-quality, preferential treatment. This stint in prison will – in no way – even remotely hint at the idea of serving “hard time.” Perhaps traces of my cynicism are rearing their heads, but I don’t find any solace in knowing that crooked congressmen are allowed to live lavishly in environments meant to “punish and rehabilitate” while decent, hard working, law-biding citizens are losing everything they have and living off scraps. Even criminals convicted of much less are succumbing to the victimization of incarceration.
I should point out that there has been at least some effort made to preclude Congressional felons from being handsomely rewarded through their pensions. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (S.1); passed by the 110th Congress and signed into law by President Bush; disqualifies members of Congress from receiving a pension when convicted of certain felonies. However, S.1 only explicity points out a handful of qualifying offenses, while excluding many others. An additional caveat (and especially germane to the Stevens case) is that S.1 is not applicable to crimes committed before the act’s passage. It’s a ridiculous provision, but I understand it. I suspect that retroactively stripping convicted congressmen of pensions might raise some legal and constitutional concerns down the road. So you old school convicted lawmakers can sleep a little easier in your luxury resorts jail cells. Your five to six figure, lifelong pensions are still entact.
I’m definitely in the wrong line of work.