Wright Broke House Rules 69 Times, Ethics Panel Says : Democrats, GOP Agree on Action
The House Ethics Committee, with Democrats and Republicans united, formally charged Speaker Jim Wright today with 69 violations of the chamber’s rules including what the panel’s chairman called “a scheme to evade” limits on outside earnings.
After a 10-month, $1.5-million investigation, the committee of six Democrats and six Republicans voted unanimously to issue a report finding “reason to believe” the Texas Democrat had run afoul of House rules requiring reporting of gifts, barring acceptance of gifts from people with a direct interest in legislation and limiting outside earned income.
“I know in my heart I have not violated any of the rules of that institution,” Wright said in a speech to a labor meeting shortly after the ethics report was released.
At a news conference, committee chairman Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles) emphasized that Wright is presumed innocent until the charges are proven, and he underscored that proving them requires a much higher weight of evidence than the step taken today, which is the panel’s equivalent of an indictment.
The move set in motion a series of steps in which Wright can defend himself and the panel must prove with “clear and convincing” evidence that the violations occurred. That is likely ultimately to throw the matter before the full House, where Wright’s position as the nation’s highest-elected Democrat, or even his House seat, could be on the line.
The most serious allegation against Wright--that he accepted about $145,000 in gifts over a 10-year period from George Mallick, a Fort Worth developer--also had the narrowest margin of support on the Ethics Committee.
According to the report of the panel’s special outside counsel, Chicago attorney Richard J. Phelan, Democrats Chester Atkins of Massachusetts and Bernard Dwyer of New Jersey joined the six committee Republicans for an 8-4 margin on that issue.
The panel agreed with Phelan that Mallick’s major interests in real estate and oil and gas ventures and in redevelopment of Fort Worth’s historic stockyards district gave him a direct interest in legislation on taxation and on certain appropriations bills. His financing arrangements with savings and loan institutions also gave him an interest in legislation involving the S&L; industry, the committee found.
But Wright’s lawyer, William C. Oldaker, called that “doublespeak” and said “it’s one of the most outrageous readings of legislative history” he has seen. Overall, the report contains “a lot of noise, a lot of clamoring, but very little substance,” he said.
Other matters before the committee were more clear-cut. The panel voted unanimously that there was reason to believe Wright failed to report as gifts the use of a car and Fort Worth condominium that he and his wife received from Mallick.
Committee members voted 12 to 2 that Betty Wright’s $18,000-a-year salary from a Mallick-Wright company should also be characterized as a gift, saying she did little or nothing to earn the money.
The panel also voted 12 to 2 that certain bulk sales of Wright’s book, “Reflections of a Public Man,” appeared to have been used to evade House ceilings on outside earned income.