Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) was accused by his election opponent on Tuesday of abusing his congressional telephone privileges during "a phone calling spree" between December, 1987, and March, 1992.
Anita Perez Ferguson of Oxnard, a Democrat running against Gallegly for a House seat representing most of Ventura County, said in a statement that "Gallegly's abusive use of his cellular phone makes his five bounced checks in the House banking scandal look like small potatoes."
Perez Ferguson's statement was based on public telephone records compiled by the clerk of the House of Representatives. Members of the House and Senate are reimbursed for their phone calls if they are made in the conduct of congressional business.
The records showed that Gallegly made more than $21,000 worth of calls during the period from telephones aboard airplanes and from car phones in Washington, and in his congressional district in California.
"I don't know if these were calls on congressional business or not," said Sam Rodriguez, Perez Ferguson campaign manager. "But this is an abuse of the congressional privilege by an incumbent congressman who does not sit on any important committees and who is not a part of the Republican leadership."
Gallegly, a three-term congressman, sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Interior and Insular Affairs committees.
John Frith, Gallegly's spokesman in Washington, called Perez Ferguson's statement "a joke," and said Gallegly's telephone expenses were less than some other members of the California congressional delegation.
"What better way to serve his constituents than to make productive use of all that time on the road?" Frith asked.
For instance, Frith said, on one coast-to-coast flight in June, 1990, Gallegly helped a critically injured sailor from Simi Valley receive medical treatment in a Texas military hospital and helped the family secure free airplane transportation to be at his side when he died.
In May, 1991, Frith said, Gallegly was on his car phone for the entire trip between Simi Valley and Los Angeles International Airport helping a Camarillo couple through international red tape so that they could adopt a Romanian infant girl, Alyssa Suffern.
Now two years old, "Elton" was one of the first words the baby learned, her parents have said.