Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has lost his $28,000 annual state pension. He’s serving a 15-month prison sentence for banking violations — crimes he admitted were to pay someone to keep quiet about his sexual abuse of high school students decades ago.
Illinois law says pensions are only supposed to be taken away if the crime arose from the government job.
A 5-2 majority of lawmakers who sit on the board of the General Assembly Retirement System voted to strip the pension. They reasoned that Hastert’s crime was done to protect his public image — which relates back to his public career in Springfield.
“As a result of these payments, they would have affected his public career," says Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside. "His General Assembly service was part and parcel with that, so we felt it was a prudent decision."
But Rep. David Harris voted no. A Republican from Arlington Heights, Harris says Illinois law is clear, and he doesn’t see a connection between Hastert's recent financial crimes and his service in the General Assembly in the 1980s.
“If a person goes out and robs a bank on his private time, and it’s not in conjunction with being a member of the General Assembly, he may go to jail for robbing a bank, but that doesn’t necessarily, automatically forfeit any retirement benefit in the General Assembly Retirement System," Harris says.
Hastert's attorneys didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision. Hastert could appeal the decision in state court.
The Illinois attorney general's office previously recommended that the board reduce Hastert's pension to $9,000 dollars a year.
Hastert already agreed to forfeit his state teacher pension. He still collects a federal pension said to be worth more than $70,000 a year.