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An Election-Year Virus

De-bunked again and again, a false e-mail keeps circulating claiming members of Congress don't pay Social Security taxes.

August 28, 2006

Modified: August 28, 2006

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Summary

This election-year bunk has been going around so long that it cites as an example a "Congressman White" who left office in 1983 and died in 1998.

It claims: "Our Senators and Congresswomen do not pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it." That's false on both counts. House and Senate members have paid into the Social Security system since January 1984, and collect benefits when they become eligible.  

It also claims members of Congress have a lavish pension system that costs them nothing. That's also false. Members of Congress are in the same pension system as all other federal employees, and they pay accordingly.

The e-mail urges those who receive it to forward it to "everyone in your address book." And that's what any number of people do, spreading this falsehood like a virus from one email inbox to another.

We suspect this won't be the last false e-mail to spread during this election season. See our "related articles" below for examples of some nasty falsehoods that went around in 2004.

Analysis

 We can't be sure whether this is a silly hoax begun by a malicious prankster, or just a well-intentioned mistake perpetuated out of ignorance and gullibility. But even though it's easily shown to be false it is spreading once again, showing how readily lies travel via the Internet and how difficult they are to eradicate.

  A Viral Falsehood: Excerpts
(Read full, formatted version)

Social Security- 2008
WHY WAIT UNTIL 2008? THERE IS AN ELECTION IN 2006.  I HEREWITH FIRMLY STATE THAT I WILL NOT VOTE FOR ANY POLITICIAN, REGARDLESS OF THE OTHER ISSUES, IF HE DOES NOT SPONSOR AND SUPPORT THE FOLLOWING LEGISLATION. THAT INCLUDES EVERYONE STANDING FOR ELECTION IN 2006.
LET US SHOW OUR LEADERS IN WASHINGTON "PEOPLE POWER" AND THE POWER OF THE INTERNET.  LET ME KNOW IF YOU ARE WITH ME ON THIS BY FORWARDING TO EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK.
(edit)

This must be an issue in "2008" Please! Keep it going.
----------------------------------
SOCIAL SECURITY:
(This is worth reading. It is short and to the point.)
Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions during election years.
Our Senators and Congresswomen do not pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it.
You see, Social Security benefits were not suitable for persons of their rare elevation in society . They felt they should have a special plan for themselves. So, many years ago they voted in their own benefit plan.

In more recent years, no congressperson has felt the need to change it. After all, it is a great plan.
For all practical purposes their plan works like this:
When they retire, they continue to draw the same pay until they die.
Except it may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments..
For example, Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may expect to draw $7,800,000.00 (that's Seven Million, Eight-Hundred Thousand Dollars), with their wives drawing $275, 000.00 during the last years of their lives.
This is calculated on an average life span for each of those two Dignitaries.
Younger Dignitaries who retire at an early age, will receive much more during the rest of their lives.
Their cost for this excellent plan is $0.00 . NADA..! .ZILCH...
(edit)
Jerk the Golden Fleece Retirement Plan from under the Senators and Congressmen. Put them into the Social Security plan with the rest of us
then sit back.....
and see how fast they would fix it.
If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve.
How many people CAN you send this to?
Better yet.....
How many people WILL you send this to?

Dear Subscriber

This version – updated for 2006 with garish, screaming colors and typefaces – was forwarded to us by a subscriber who said "If this is TRUE, I will send it to everyone I know." Dear subscriber: It isn't. Please don't. Thanks for giving us another shot at this howler.

We de-bunked an earlier version of this e-mail in early 2004, and showed how anyone with Internet access could easily check it out for themselves. And we were by no means the only ones, or the first.

     The Social Security Administration says it's false, and puts it number five on their list of frequently asked questions.

     The Secretary of the Senate also says it's false.

     The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, describes the facts about the Congressional pension system in a report that anyone could download.

     Anyone with an Internet connection also could quickly summon up articles de-bunking earlier versions of this e-mail at sites such as Snopes.com,About.com, and TruthOrFiction.com , websites devoted to de-bunking hoaxes and fairy tales that circulate on the Internet, and which we've found to be generally reliable. In fact, when we searched for "members of congress don't pay social security" on Google, those were the first three results that popped up. So it is actually no more trouble to check the accuracy of e-mails like this than it is to spread such falsehoods to friends and relatives.

Stale Information: White

To appreciate how poorly researched and out of date this e-mail is, consider its claim that "Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may expect to draw $7,800,000.00" in pension. No source is given.

For one thing, there is nobody named White currently serving in the House, or the Senate , for that matter. The message no doubt refers to the late Rep. Richard Crawford White, a Texas Democrat who served in the House for 18 years, longer than any other House member named White in US history. He left office Jan. 3, 1983, a year before the pension system changed. That may give a clue to how long this bogus message has been circulated by persons who don't bother to check. White died  in 1998. Snopes.com dates the first appearance of this message on the Internet at April, 2000, making us think that this may have originated as a copy of a printed chain letter or printed screed that was later copied unchanged into the more easily transmitted e-mail form.

Stale Information: Byrd & Bradley

As for Sen. Robert  Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat, he seems to have little wish to collect any pension at all. He's running for re-election this year at the age of 88, and if re-elected will turn 89 before starting another six-year term in January.

Under law Byrd's pension can't exceed 80 per cent of his salary which is currently $165,200 per year. Should voters force him to retire involuntarily in January, we figure he couldn't draw more than $132,160 to start. Any male reaching age 89 can expect to live, on average, just under four more years, according to the Social Security Administration's most recent actuarial table. So Byrd could expect to draw perhaps a little over half a million dollars in pension if voters force him to retire in January, not the multi-million-dollar figure this e-mail claims.

If voters return him to office, and if he beats the odds and survives the full term, he would be 95 before collecting a pension, at which point the average life expectancy would be another 2-1/2 years. And contrary to this e-mail's claim, Byrd's wife of nearly 69 years, Erma, will draw nothing. She died March 25, 2006.

Another red flag that should make anyone pause before relaying this message is that it also rails against benefits for Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley  of New Jersey. He hasn't been a senator since leaving office in 1997 after 18 years in office. As many will recall, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president in 2000.

More to come?

We have little doubt that we'll be seeing more of these viral falsehoods as Election Day approaches. The Internet has made it possible for false rumors to spread faster, more widely and in far greater detail than the old-fashioned "whispering campaign," which relied on one person telling another.

For example, one viral email claimed that President Bush was quietly lobbying Congress to authorize reviving the military draft. Others accused Democratic candidate John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry of giving millions to "radical" groups, some linked to terrorists, and of being responsible for locating Heinz factories overseas. All were false. See "related articles" below.

When the next one shows up in your inbox, we advise pausing to check it out before forwarding it.

-by Brooks Jackson

Sources

Patrick J. Purcell, "Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress," Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress: 21 Jan. 2005.
The Senate Historical Office and the Legislative Resource Center of the House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the US Congress
online edition , searched Aug. 27, 2005.

 

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