Corrupt should lose pensions

There are only a few things that can be considered certainties in New York state: death, taxes and state politicians collecting their pensions, even if they wind up in jail for corruption.

The latter fact was highlighted when U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara spoke Tuesday before the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption at its first public hearing.

While Bharara’s statement that, “Public corruption, based on all evidence, appears rampant,” got much of the attention, his office took action that also is noteworthy.

Earlier in the day, Bharara’s office moved to take away the pensions of state officials convicted of corruption. The office filing seeks to include pensions as part of the property convicted officials would have to forfeit. It comes in the case against Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens, who’s accused of scheming with officials in New York City and Rockland County to raise funds for his one-time mayoral campaign.

Dozens of New York officials have been convicted of corruption in recent decades, but their lucrative public pensions have remained protected by a provision of the state constitution. That protection hasn’t yet been tested in corruption cases.

“Convicted politicians should not grow old comfortably cushioned by a pension paid for by the very people they betrayed,” Bharara said.

It should be noted what is being proposed may not result in a politician’s entire pension being forfeited if he or she is convicted of corruption. In addition to fines, a convicted politician could lose pension interest that accrued while he or she engaged in criminal conduct. Bharara noted defendants previously convicted who failed to satisfy the financial obligations imposed during sentencing could face forfeiture action against their pensions to satisfy criminal judgments.

Politicians convicted of corruption are lucky they get any pensions at all. Why should convicted politicians get the same treatment as those who are not punished?

The proposal is not perfect, but it would be an improvement over the current situation.