updated 11/30/2006 9:18:00 AM ET 2006-11-30T14:18:00

More than 20 citizen groups are urging the new Democratic leaders in Congress to include in any ethics reform the denial of pensions to lawmakers convicted of felonies.

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"We must end the practice of rewarding lawmakers who abuse the law with plush pension packages funded by the American taxpayer," the coalition wrote in a letter to be sent Thursday to Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid, who will become Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader when Democrats assume control of Congress in January.

The groups, led by the National Taxpayers Union, include Ralph Nader's Congressional Accountability Project, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Republican Liberty Caucus and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

Powerful pension protection
Currently, members of Congress don't forfeit pensions unless convicted of crimes related to treason and espionage.

As a result, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who was sentenced last March to eight years in prison for accepting bribes from defense contractors, is entitled to an initial annual pension of as much as $64,000, according to calculations by the National Taxpayers Union.

The former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., who served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty in 1996 to two mail fraud charges, is potentially receiving benefits, after cost-of-living adjustments, of $125,000 a year, the NTU said.

Both Pelosi and Reid have said that Democrats, who made Republican ethical lapses a major campaign issue, will move quickly in the new Congress to tighten rules governing congressional ethics.

The House last spring passed lobbying and ethics legislation that would have denied pensions to lawmakers convicted of bribery or acting as a foreign agent. The legislation died when the House and Senate were unable to agree on a common approach.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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