Dan Rostenkowski, a democrat congressman from Chicago who was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (before Charlie Rangel) from 1981-1994, died yesterday at the age of 82. As noted in his New York Times obituary that you can read HERE, he was first elected to Congress in 1958 at the age of 30 and was its youngest member for many years. But Rostenkowski is best remembered today for his spectacular fall from grace starting in 1994 when he was indicted on 17 counts of abusing the congressional payroll. It all began with an investigation into abuses at the House post office.
Rostenkowski was suspected of buying $22,000 worth of stamps with public money and then converting them into cash. Then he was accused of, among other things, hiring 14 people on his congressional payroll who did little or no work, and of misusing his House expense account to bill Congress for $40,000 worth of furniture and crystal.
It was all relatively petty for the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rostenkowski fought back against the charges and refused to resign. “I did not commit any crimes,” he told reporters. “My conscience is clear, and my 42-year record as an elected official is one I am proud to once again run on.” It's amazing how familiar that sounds today in light of Charlie Rangel's impassioned defense against the charges against him and his 40 year career in Congress.
Rostenkowski subsequently lost his re-election bid. Two years later he negotiated a plea deal to the charges against him and served 15 months in federal prison. What's not mentioned in this obit, however, is that, despite having been convicted of mail fraud, until his death Rostenkowski still received one of the highest Congressional pensions, over $100,000 per year.