Wright Pressured U.S. Bank Regulator, FDIC Chief Says

Times Staff Writers

House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) put improper pressure on a federal bank regulator to assist troubled Texas savings and loan associations in the mid-1980s, L. William Seidman, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said Monday.

Seidman, speaking to reporters at a luncheon, said that Wright went beyond normal congressional limits in representing constituents’ interests in his dealings with Edwin J. Gray, former chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which regulates the thrift industry.

“Gray used to weep on my shoulder about what he was asked to do” by Wright, Seidman said. “I said: ‘Courage, Ed. Courage.’ ”

Asked if Gray felt threatened by the Speaker’s demands, Seidman replied: “That was my sense, yes.”

The comments by the high-ranking federal official underscore the seriousness of Wright’s difficulties as he awaits a House Ethics Committee’s report on his conduct that includes the allegation that he browbeat bank regulators in cases involving Texas S&Ls.;


The committee Monday resumed deliberations on the report, which could be released this week or early next month after the Easter recess. Critical findings could weaken Wright’s leadership or, if damaging enough, cost him his Speaker’s post.

Committee Chairman Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), joined by ranking Republican Rep. John T. Myers of Indiana, said the panel’s six Democrats and six GOP members will come to a nonpartisan verdict in the nine-month inquiry.

Wright has acknowledged contacting regulators on behalf of S&L; officials but denied exerting undue influence.

In a related development, ABC-TV News reported that Wright invested in a real estate partnership with Richard Swann, head of American Pioneer Savings bank of Orlando, Fla., at a time when the Speaker was advocating legislation favored by the savings and loan industry.

Wright and his wife, along with Texas land developer George Mallick and Mallick’s wife, earned $90,000 on the deal, triple their investment, the network said. Late in 1987, Wright disclosed his one-sixth interest in the Florida development, known as Winderwood, and said it was worth $104,000, according to House records.

Gingrich Book

Meanwhile, Wright’s chief accuser, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) found himself on the defensive over a report that wealthy patrons contributed $105,000 to help promote a 1984 book by Gingrich and his wife, Marianne. She received about $10,000 of that sum for her work on the 272-page volume and the promotion campaign.

Gingrich said the financial arrangements to promote the book, although unusual in the publishing business, were common in the theatrical industry and in movie making.

“They were completely legal, completely ethical and not in violation of any House rules,” Gingrich said. “We were not trying to make a quick buck or arrange any sweetheart deal.”

The disclosure of the book financing in a story in the Washington Post came at an awkward time for Gingrich, who is seeking to replace former Rep. Dick Cheney as the House Republican whip in a close contest against Rep. Edward R. Madigan of Illinois.

But the fiery Gingrich said he does not think that the report will harm his chances and asserted that he is “a couple of votes over” the number he needs to win the contest Wednesday morning.

21 Invested $5,000 Each

He acknowledged that Georgia millionaire and former Rep. Howard (Bo) Callaway is one of 21 “investors” who put up $5,000 each to promote the book but lost their money and got only a tax benefit.

“Some were campaign contributors and others were people I never met,” he said.