WASHINGTON — In the last hurrah for controversial speaking fees from special-interest groups, San Fernando Valley-area congressmen accepted a total of $172,473 in honorariums as well as dozens of expense-paid trips to such destinations as Palm Springs and Honolulu last year, according to 1990 financial disclosure reports.
Leading the way was Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who received $70,123 in honorariums. The powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and environment was given many of the speaking fees by health industry groups whose legislative interests fall under the broad jurisdiction of his subcommittee.
Waxman was followed by Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Highland), whose district includes part of Palmdale, $37,750; Bill Thomas (R-Bakersfield), whose district includes Lancaster, $32,700; Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), $16,000; Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), $12,900, and Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), $3,000. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), a longtime critic of honorariums, continued not to accept any.
Overall, while the entire Congress accepted less in speaking fees last year, the Valley-area lawmakers took slightly more money in honorariums than they did in 1989, when their total was $161,750. Berman and Moorhead, who took less, were exceptions.
Honorariums--which government-reform groups have called tantamount to legalized bribery--were so heavily criticized that the House included a ban on retaining them for personal use as part of a pay-raise package it adopted in 1989. The prohibition did not go into effect, however, until Jan. 1, 1991. In the future, legislators will be able to donate the fees to charity.
Under the rules in effect through 1990, House members were permitted to keep no more than $26,850 in speaking fees annually and a maximum of $2,000 for any single speech. Hence, Waxman reported that he donated $43,463 in honorariums to charity and retained $26,660. Lewis gave $10,950 to charity and Thomas gave $6,300.
These charitable contributions, which are tax-deductible, often build good will for the lawmakers among community organizations.
Lewis, a House GOP leader and member of the influential Appropriations Committee, took two trips to Honolulu with his wife. During a five-day excursion in August, the couple's expenses were paid by Nutri/System Inc. In January, the Food Marketing Institute flew the lawmaker and his wife to Hawaii; Lewis reported that he picked up the expenses for two of the six days. He was also paid a $2,000 honorarium for delivering a speech on each trip.
Lewis, who took a total of 17 expense-paid trips last year, could not be reached for comment. Members do not have to disclose the amounts spent on their behalf for trips associated with their speaking engagements.
Honorariums and trips--much like political action committee campaign contributions--tend to go to lawmakers who are positioned to influence the outcome of legislation that affects the donor interest groups. That generally appears to be the case with Valley-area members.
Waxman, a leader among honorarium recipients nationally, accepted speaking fees of $5,000 from the American Hospital Assn., $4,950 from the Pharmaceutical Industry Investors and $3,000 each from the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and the American Group Practice Assn. Although it is unusual for groups to give a lawmaker more than $2,000 for a single speech, Waxman received eight honorariums of $3,000 to $5,000 each.
"Since I had a lot of invitations, I simply asked for $5,000 and groups were willing to pay it," Waxman said Friday. "I have been permitted under the rules to make additional income, which I certainly needed for personal purposes. I don't see anything wrong with it."
At the same time, he noted that he directs more of the money to charity than he keeps. He said recipients included AIDS Project Los Angeles, the American Assn. for Ethiopian Jewry, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Planned Parenthood and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Waxman said organizations that pay him for speeches gain neither access nor influence. He accepts invitations, he said, "if it's a group that I particularly want to talk to and get my point of view across to them and it won't take much time or effort on my part."
Thomas, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, received $2,000 each from the Tobacco Institute, the National Assn. of Realtors, the Securities Industry Assn., the International Council of Shopping Centers, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, the National Realty Co., the National Assn. of Real Estate Investment Trusts and Pfizer Inc.
The Tobacco Institute and the Tobacco Assn. of the United States each picked up his tab for trips.