Two suburban members of the board governing the Illinois General Assembly’s public pension system were the only dissenters Wednesday in a vote that revokes former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s legislative pension.
The five members of the seven-member board who voted to strip Hastert of his $28,000-a-year pension argued that the cover-up of sexual abuse of students he taught and coached could not be fully separated from his time as a state representative.
Hastert, a Republican from Plano, is serving 15 months in a federal prison in Minnesota after pleading guilty to money laundering charges involving payments to cover up sexual misconduct.
At his sentencing in Chicago last April, Hastert admitted he had sexually abused teenage boys at Yorkville High School, where he worked from 1965 to 1981.
“Hastert would not have been in the same position, where he structured the payments to keep his victims quiet to protect his reputation, had it not been for his political career,” Democratic state Rep. Mike Zalewski of Riverside said.
Zalewski advocated cutting Hastert’s full pension despite a recommendation by the Illinois attorney general’s office to reduce Hastert’s legislative benefits to about $9,000 a year.
Before his conviction, Hastert had been receiving three pensions — $16,000 from the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System, his $28,000 General Assembly pension from his six years as a member of the Illinois House and $73,000 from his 20 years in Congress.
Hastert’s General Assembly benefits were calculated under a statute that gave him extra credit for also being in TRS.
Board members with dissenting votes, Republican state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights and former Highland Park Mayor Daniel Pierce, said they did not believe there was sufficient connection between Hastert’s service as a lawmaker and his abuse of students to warrant completely eliminating his pension.
“I felt the connection was way too tenuous and we had a very solid attorney general position to rely on,” Harris said.
The board also rejected a recommendation that the state repay Hastert $6,343 of his legislative pension that was put on hold after his conviction.
TRS moved last year to revoke Hastert’s teacher pension because of a state law preventing pension collection by anyone with a felony conviction related to his or her time teaching.
But Hastert appealed, and TRS spokesman Dave Urbanek said the two sides agreed Jan. 30 that Hastert will forfeit his annual pension after April 27, 2016 — the date of his sentencing in federal court. Urbanek said TRS agreed not to go after the $222,808 in benefits already paid to Hastert.
State Sen. Don Harmon said the legislative pension board is prepared that Hastert might file suit as a result of the decision.