Taxpayers Foot Bill for Boehner’s Post-Speaker Office
Updated 6:10 p.m. | Looking for John A. Boehner? Try the Longworth House Office Building.
The former House speaker, whose resignation from Congress became effective over the weekend, is taking advantage of little-known perks and privileges taxpayers provide by law to those vacating the chamber’s highest office. Boehner is setting up a government-funded office that may have as many as three aides with salaries of more than $100,000 each.
The Ohio Republican can maintain the outpost for up to five years, with taxpayers footing the bill for office operations, franked mail and personnel costs. Funding for former speakers has been in place since 1970, just before John W. McCormack became the first speaker to retire to private life.
Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, said it was “too early to speculate” whether an upcoming omnibus spending bill will include a funding request for Boehner’s post-speakership office.
“No statutory restrictions exist on the cost, type, or location of a former Speaker’s office,” wrote Matthew E. Glassman in a Congressional Research Service report from May. Boehner could pay his three aides salaries of up to $158,000, $133,000 and $116,000 for 2015, Glassman noted.
Boehner will staff his ex-speaker’s office with Amy Lozupone, director of administrative operations in his speaker’s operation, according to a Boehner spokeswoman speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. Lozupone has worked for Boehner since 2001. The spokeswoman also confirmed the Longworth location and said it wasn’t clear whether Boehner would make additional staff appointments.
The taxpayer-funded office cannot be used for political purposes. Instead, it is “to be used solely for the administration and conclusion of matters relating to service as a Representative and Speaker of the House,” Glassman’s CRS report said.
Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., spent about $1.5 million running his post-speaker office between 2008 and 2012.
Boehner, like any other former speaker, must forfeit the office and its expenses should he take a federally appointed or elective office, such as a Cabinet post or ambassadorship. He would not need to ditch the digs if he headed to the private sector.
“It certainly would be improper for him to lobby out of that office, but there’s nothing that says he couldn’t enjoy the benefits in [a] wind-down, even if he were to become a lobbyist,” said Kenneth Gross, a lobbying and ethics lawyer. “Whether it’s appropriate or not is a different issue.”
Hastert, who pleaded guilty last week to charges of evading federal bank reporting requirements , resigned from Congress in 2007. He maintained his post-speaker office while also acting as a registered federal lobbyist for clients such as Lorillard Tobacco and Bridgepoint Education, lobbying records show, while also spending federal funds for his wind-down office from 2009 to 2012.
It’s notable because former lawmakers who become registered federal lobbyists must forfeit other privileges of Congress such as access to the House gym and the House floor during votes.
“I was unaware Hastert was receiving those types of official benefits while serving as a registered lobbyist,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a liberal watchdog group. “I would’ve filed an ethics complaint. They should not be simultaneously enjoying special access and special privileges associated with their government services. There has to be a clear break.”
Boehner has not said what he will do next, including whether he will pursue a lobbying career. Should he decide, like many of his colleagues before him, to head to K Street, he would be subject to a one-year cooling-off period during which he could not lobby the legislative branch.
Though he could field lucrative, seven-figure offers from lobbying firms, Boehner isn’t likely to go broke in retirement. He has an estimated net worth of $1.82 million, according to Roll Call’s Wealth of Congress Index. Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, also estimated that Boehner could qualify for an annual pension worth just more than $78,000 per year — depending on what he signed up for when he came to Congress in 1991. Sepp cautioned it is possible Boehner, who will turn 66 on Nov. 17, may have declined a pension out of principle.
Dave Schnittger, a former senior Boehner aide who is fielding media calls for Boehner, said the former speaker and his wife, Debbie, have not sorted through their many retirement decisions including whether to keep their Capitol Hill residence, whether the ex-speaker intends to enroll in Medicare and how much his pension may be worth.
“John and Debbie are just now beginning to contemplate some of the many questions and decisions they face as they begin their post-congressional lives,” Schnittger said by email.
Boehner made clear he is eager to embrace some aspects of life outside of the speaker bubble, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday he was looking forward to walking to and from Starbucks and Pete’s Diner “by myself” — sans security detail.
“I’ll miss the people around here most,” he told CNN. “We get to do important things. We get to put our fingerprints on the direction of the country, fingerprints on history. But at the end of the day it’s the people you meet that make this job so rewarding.”
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