OKLAHOMA CITY (March 9, 2009) – Oklahoma politicians forced from office due to ethical violations would lose their state pensions under legislation approved today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
House Bill 2175, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would force public officials to forgo a state pension if they are convicted of a crime related to abuse of office. The bill applies to any felony for bribery, corruption, forgery, perjury or any other crime related to the duties of office, or related to campaign contributions or campaign financing.
The bill’s provisions would apply to all state, county and municipal elected officials, appointees, and employees.
"Elected officials should be held to a higher standard and a politician who violates the public trust should face a harsh punishment," said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. "My legislation will ensure the taxpayers are not forced to pay the retirement expenses of a crooked politician."
The legislation is driven in part by the controversy surrounding the outsized pension benefits paid to former state Sen. Gene Stipe, a McAlester Democrat who resigned from office in March 2003.
Shortly after his resignation, Stipe signed a federal plea agreement related to charges that he funneled more than $200,000 in illegal contributions to the unsuccessful 1998 congressional campaign of Walt Roberts.
The state Supreme Court has since ruled that Stipe remains eligible for his state retirement benefits because the plea agreement contained a provision saying Stipe’s conduct did not relate to his duties as a state senator and were therefore not a violation of his oath of office.
Stipe is expected to receive a monthly benefit of $7,042.
"Any public official involved in criminal activity, whether conducted from his Capitol office or not, has proven himself unworthy of state benefits," Nelson said. "Politicians convicted of wrongdoing should not receive any monetary award from the state, let alone a retirement income that dramatically exceeds the average earnings of most Oklahomans."
Since Stipe’s resignation, several other elected officials have been involved in controversies that led to their resignation from office, including former Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher and former state Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan.
Unfortunately, those examples are just the latest in a long line of corrupt Oklahoma politicians.
"Oklahoma has an unfortunate history of political corruption including the Supreme Court scandal of the 1960s and the county commissioner scandal of the 1980s," Nelson noted. "It’s time for a zero tolerance policy. Perhaps officials who are tempted to violate the law will think twice if they know they will no longer receive a golden parachute on their way out of office when caught."
House Bill 2175 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 86-11 vote today. It now proceeds to the state Senate.