• The Truman Show: The Fraudulent Origins of the Former Presidents Act

    Paul Campos
    Michigan State Law Review
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    On January 6, 2021, a seditious mob incited by President Donald Trump invaded and ransacked the Capitol in an attempt to stop a joint session of Congress from certifying Trump’s defeat in the previous November’s election.1 In the days immediately following, many people demanded that President Trump be impeached for a second time for his role in triggering the attack.2 A number of these people pointed out that, should Trump be convicted by the Senate, he would lose the many benefits bestowed on ex-presidents by the Former Presidents Act (FPA), the federal statute enacted in 1958 that first granted both a pension and an array of other valuable taxpayer-funded privileges to former Presidents.3 By 2020, the provisions of the FPA were providing former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama more than one million dollars per year each in government benefits.4 (Former President Carter was receiving $480,000 in annual benefits).5 For many commenters, the prospect of Donald Trump receiving a comparable level of taxpayer largesse to help subsidize his post-presidential lifestyle was an additional compelling reason to eject Trump from the White House via impeachment and conviction.6 As this series of events illustrated, the Former Presidents Act is a statute of considerable symbolic political significance.7 That significance is also illustrated by the fact that, more than sixty years after its enactment, the FPA has remained a subject of ongoing controversy within Congress itself.8 In recent years, several bills intended to significantly curtail the benefits it provides have been proposed by members of both parties.9 One of these bills reached President Obama’s desk, where he vetoed it late in his second term.10
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    10 months ago
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