Dan Morain

Dan Morain: Hypocrisy and Rep. McClintock's pension

Dan Morain
Dan Morain

Tom McClintock used the occasion of a 2005 hearing into state pensions to denounce government workers' rich retirement benefits, as was his wont back when he was in California's Senate.

Rick Battson, then a legislative staffer, recalls asking the conservative the obvious question during a break. Wasn't McClintock eligible for a legislative pension, given that he served in the Assembly in the 1980s, back when legislators could accrue pensions?

"He was blunt, nonchalant. He said, no, he wasn't taking it," Battson, since retired, told me the other day. At least, Battson thought, McClintock was being consistent, an admirable trait.

McClintock repeated the same claim during his first successful congressional campaign in 2008, telling reporters for The Bee and Los Angeles Times that he had sworn off a California state pension due him from his early tenure in the Legislature.

"I'm concluding 22 years in the state Legislature now. I have no pension. I turned that down when I began in 1982," McClintock told the L.A. Times in May 2008.

Rep. McClintock, a Republican who represents the Sierra even though he resides in Elk Grove, has cultivated a reputation for being tight with a dollar, for having been a tea partyer back before the tea party existed, and, most of all, for sticking to his stated principles.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out that in addition to being paid $174,000 a year by Uncle Sam, McClintock has been collecting a California Legislators' Retirement System pension since he arrived in Congress in 2009, courtesy of the taxpayers he says he tries so hard to protect.

Californians ended legislative pensions when they approved the term limits initiative in 1990. But McClintock, who has spent a career in politics opposing most government, first was elected to the Legislature in 1982.

By any standard, McClintock's pension is modest, a combined $820 a month or $9,845 this year, including $528 a month or $6,336 annually in a Legislators' Retirement System payment, said Amy Norris, a California Public Employees' Pension System spokeswoman. But that's $9,845 more than he led voters to believe he would be collecting back before he won his congressional seat in 2008.

The National Journal's dogged reporter Shane Goldmacher, writing about congressional members who collect state pensions, caught up with McClintock in Washington last month, and asked him why he didn't forgo the state pension, given his railing against bloated government spending.

McClintock, apparently more conservative than he is gallant, replied: "You'd have to take up that question with Mrs. McClintock."

I don't know how the McClintock household works. But after 32 years of marital bliss, I have an idea how Mrs. Morain would react if I blamed her for my handiwork that turned out badly; it would not be pretty.

McClintock's quip to Goldmacher didn't answer why he would have claimed he wouldn't collect the state pension during the 2008 campaign, only to start collecting it after he won the congressional seat.

"In November of 2008," McClintock spokeswoman Jennifer Cressy said in an email to me, "Mr. McClintock was approached by staff of the Legislators' Retirement System and informed that he still had the option to buy into the pension systems for his state service, which he did at that time. Until then, he had not participated in the pension systems and was not aware that he could still do so."

So in addition to blaming his wife for his decision to take the pension, the congressman is suggesting that the Legislators' Retirement System twisted his arm. Who knew that McClintock was so passive?

In the Legislature, McClintock regularly introduced bills to restrict state spending by, for example, seeking to eliminate automatic cost-of-living increases for welfare recipients. Pension recipient McClintock receives automatic cost-of-living raises.

When he was named to the House Budget Committee in 2010, he issued a press release emphasizing that he stuck to his principles during his years in the Legislature by introducing "hundreds of specific budget reforms, including tax, spending and borrowing limitations; contracting out of state services; pension, welfare and education reform and bureaucratic streamlining."

Under congressional rules, McClintock should have disclosed the amount of his pension on his annual financial disclosure forms. He neglected to do so for his first three years in Congress, and filed amendments in May 2012 correcting what he called inadvertent omissions.

That McClintock would have renounced his pension is not surprising, given his rhetoric. But he did more than renounce and then accept the pension. He failed to disclose the amount of the pension, and blamed others for his decision to take the pension.

No one should begrudge a working stiff his or her pension, especially a modest sum such as the $9,845 that McClintock collects. Hypocrisy is another matter.

Follow Dan Morain on Twitter @danielmorain. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/morain.

This version of Dan Morain's column was corrected to show the Rep. McClintock filed amendments to financial disclosure forms in May 2012 instead of May 2013.