(CNSNews.com) - The presidential election is long over, but for taxpayers, there is still some unfinished business: Some U.S. lawmakers -- including Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards -- received thousands of dollars in salary overpayments for being away from their jobs in 2003 and 2004, a taxpayer watchdog group says.
According to the National Taxpayers Union, an obscure federal statute that's still on the books requires lawmakers absent from Congress to forfeit their pay unless they or a family member are ill.
Congressional leaders have not enforced the law, and rank-and-file lawmakers are reluctant to comply, the NTU said.
"Members of Congress claim they follow the laws that apply to everyone else, but our research shows that many senators and representatives won't even follow laws that apply explicitly to themselves," said NTU President John Berthoud.
"Worse, taxpayers covered the bill for several Members of Congress who were trolling for votes at the polls instead of casting votes in Washington."
NTU said its study is based on missed-vote data from Congressional Observer Publications. The NTU analysis counted absences only if every floor vote was missed on any given day; and it says only lawmakers with more than 10 full days of absences were included in the report.
NTU said it has sent letters to lawmakers named in the study, asking them to review NTU's record of their absences, make any corrections, and inform NTU of how they intend to comply with the law.
According to NTU, the "chronically absent" list "is filled with presidential and vice presidential candidates," including Sens. John Kerry, (D-Mass.), John Edwards (D-N.C.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
House Members running for Senate seats also were also prominent on the list: They include Brad Carson (D-Okla.), Mac Collins (R-Ga.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Pete Deutsch (D-Fla.), Joseph Hoeffel (D-Pa.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Chris John (D-La.), Denise Majette (D-Ga.), George Nethercutt (R-Wash.), and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.).
From January 2003 to the October 2004 recess, John Kerry missed 146 days of votes without being granted leave, the NTU study shows. His total salary overpayment was $90,932.68, NTU said.
Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, compiled 102 days of unexcused absences during that period, for an overpayment of $63,543.16, NTU said.
Presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt's missed days cost taxpayers $81,362.53 in excessive pay. NTU also notes that Gephardt was absent for 85 of the 109 days that the House cast votes in the year 2003 alone. Combined with 2004, Gephardt had the highest unexcused absence rate in the House, at 131 days, NTU's analysis said.
NTU notes that 2 U.S. Code 39 requires the secretary of the Senate and the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives to deduct congressional salary for days of unexcused absences. Although compliance has been sparse, it is not non-existent.
In 1971 Rep. Edwin Edwards abided by the "no work, no pay" law while running for Louisiana governor, NTU said.
"Incumbent politicians already enjoy too long a list of taxpayer-financed perks," Berthoud concluded. "Members of Congress and Congressional leaders should stop ignoring the no work no pay law and make compliance with it their first job duty, before another election cycle allows the shirking to begin all over again."
NTU is describes itself as a non-partisan citizen group working for lower taxes, smaller government, and more accountability from elected officials.