Former U.S. House speakers are entitled to taxpayer-funded offices, franked mail privileges, staffers and furniture. Now two House of Representatives members want the practice stopped.
Former speakers are allowed to run post-speaker offices for up to five years. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., spent $1.8 million. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who stepped down 18 months ago, spent $211,000.
A five-year allowance is one of the privileges that create an “elected elite,” said former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who did not set up a post-speaker office. But, the Georgia Republican told McClatchy, a short-term post-speaker office may be warranted if the person needs to wrap up local district casework to or has a large amount of records to preserve and file.
Nonsense, says Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. He wants to eliminate the post-speaker expenses, arguing that the former lawmakers have ample opportunity to pursue careers and make money in the private sector. Along with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., he’s pushing legislation to end the system.
“As our country nears $20 trillion in debt, why should the taxpayer be forced to pay for a person that no longer serves in Congress, especially when they have the ability to make millions in retirement from speaking fees, book deals, lobbying and other things?” Jones asks.
The office has been barely noticed since it was created in 1971, but it did recently attract controversy. Hastert was accused in a 2013 civil lawsuit of using post-speaker office funds for private business expenses. Hastert, who maintained his post-speaker office in his home state of Illinois, denied misusing the money and the case was dismissed this month.
Hastert was indicted on separate federal charges in 2015 and pleaded guilty to a financial crime. He’s now in a Minnesota medical center prison facility, serving a 15-month sentence that started last June.
In the case against him, federal prosecutors said Hastert had been regularly withdrawing large sums of cash to pay off someone. Later, he admitted he’d sexually abused young boys decades earlier when he worked as a high school coach in Yorkville, Illinois. The money involved in the case had been paid to help cover up the past abuses.
He was making big money as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and had the disposable income to pay $1.7 million to someone who was blackmailing him.
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, on ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert
Jones said he had learned about the post-speaker privilege from a news article published in CQ Roll Call in late 2015, after Boehner left Congress. Jones said his bill wasn’t specific to Boehner’s case, but he thinks Hastert’s example shows how unwarranted the expense is. Hastert used the post-speaker office for about four years.
“Meanwhile, he was making big money as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and had the disposable income to pay $1.7 million to someone who was blackmailing him over allegedly molesting young boys,” Jones said in 2015 about Hastert.
Boehner used office for 1 year
Gingrich declined the post-speaker office after stepping down in 1999.
“I thought it would get too cluttered with what’s private and what’s public,” he said.
Boehner left the speaker’s office in October 2015 and closed his post-speaker office a year later. His office was in the House Longworth Office Building, across the street from the Capitol. He had two staff members, one of whom was employed only for the first three months, according to House spending records.
Current law allows former speakers to hire up to three full-time staffers. In 2015, they were entitled to be paid a maximum of $158,486, $133,108 and $116,104.
Boehner stopped using the post-speaker office when he joined Squire Patton Boggs, an international law practice and one of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms. The lead staffer from the post-speaker’s office, Amy Lozupone, followed Boehner to Squire Patton Boggs. She had served in the House speaker’s office.
House speakers are second in the line of succession to the presidency and serve as the top leader in the chamber, representing their own congressional districts as well as the majority party. A speaker is also the presiding officer of the U.S. House and rarely votes or gives floor speeches.
In Boehner’s case, he stepped down while Congress’ legislative session was underway. His post-speaker’s office was available to function in an advisory role to hand off pending work to Speaker Paul Ryan’s staff.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would also be eligible to occupy a post-speaker office when she leaves office. She served as House speaker from 2007 to 2011.
If a House speaker is expelled from the chamber, the post-speaker office privilege is revoked. If a former speaker moves on to an appointed or elected government position, they must vacate the post-speaker office.
What does Boehner think of Jones’ bill to eliminate the post-speaker office?
A spokesperson for Boehner told McClatchy on Thursday that the former speaker rarely commented on active bills or legislative proposals, out of deference to current members of Congress.
“He doesn’t see it as his place to tell his former colleagues what to do,” said Dave Schnittger, Boehner spokesman.