House Speaker Jim Wright never knew until this week that his campaign did not pay $8,000 for use of a chartered jet in 1985 or that the plane's owner was a Texas banker who once pleaded guilty to concealing a felony, a spokesman for Wright said Friday.
The Speaker acted hastily to have his campaign organization, the Wright Appreciation Committee, pay the bill last Tuesday after a Wall Street Journal reporter began to ask questions about the three-day plane trip.
Wright's spokesman, Mark Johnson, said the failure to reimburse the plane's owner, Kenneth C. Hood of Dallas, was an "oversight" and insisted that the Speaker never knew who owned the plane at the time he flew in it.
Staff Made Arrangements
"I don't think he (Wright) really knows Hood," Johnson said. "The staff arranged for the plane."
Hood pleaded guilty in 1985 to a felony involving misapplication of a $600,000 bank loan and was fined $500, placed on three years' probation and ordered to provide 450 hours of community service.
Had the recent repayment not been made, the free jet travel would have been a violation of federal election laws that require the reporting of services as a political donation. The value of the transportation, $8,050, also would exceed the limit on an individual's contribution.
The belated reimbursement and a revised filing of Wright's campaign report for 1985 apparently will resolve the issue, based on past rulings by the Federal Election Commission.
Even so, the disclosure was a new embarrassment for the Speaker, who is fighting charges filed by the House Ethics Committee that he violated House rules by accepting $145,000 worth of illegal gifts from another Texas business executive and by evading House limits on speaking fees by making bulk sales of his book to organizations he addressed.
Not Discovered in Inquiry
But the committee's chief investigator, Chicago attorney Richard J. Phelan, did not discover the unpaid plane ride during his inquiry into Wright's financial affairs and it did not seem likely to become part of the ethics panel's case against the Speaker.
Disclosures about the fund-raising trip showed that Wright was accompanied on the plane by the controversial chief executive of a defunct Texas savings and loan, Thomas Gaubert. In his report, Phelan recommended that the committee charge Wright with using "undue influence" with federal regulators on Gaubert's behalf in his S&L; case, but the panel voted, 8 to 4, to dismiss the allegation.
In its report to the House, the committee said that Wright may have been "intemperate" in dealing with bank regulators but did not abuse the powers of his office.