Members of the House and Senate must soon disclose how much outside income they earned from speeches and other activities that have fueled debate over a congressional pay raise and created a preoccupation with ethics.
On Friday senators will make public their financial disclosure forms, which all high-level people in the government must file. House members will make their forms public May 22.Although the forms reveal such matters as what stocks the members of Congress bought, sold and own and how much they got in reimbursements when they went on the road to make a speech, attention this year, as never before, is apt to focus on the fees paid members of Congress for giving speeches.
Common Cause, the public interest membership group campaigning for tougher ethical standards, says it has counted 245 newspaper editorials demanding an end to these honorariums.
Under Congress' own rules, members are permitted to take $2,000 for giving speeches, writing articles or sometimes merely putting in an appearance. The fees are often paid by groups or companies with a vital interest in legislation before the speakers' committees.
Last May, members of Congress reported getting $9.8 million in honorarium fees in 1987, a 30 percent increase over 1986.
Because House rules restrict outside earned income to 30 percent of salary and Senate rules restrict senators from taking honorarium fees worth more than 40 percent of salary, many members get more than they can keep and give the overflow to charity.
Last year, members of Congress kept $7.5 million and gave away $2.3 million.
The average senator kept $23,200, and the average House member kept $12,200.
The defense industry alone paid more than $500,000 in speaking fees to members of congressional committees that deal with defense issues.
President Bush, in endorsing a 51 percent pay boost in January that had been recommended by a commission appointed by former President Ronald Reagan, also endorsed a simultaneous ban on honorariums.
When a public outcry caused Congress to vote down the pay raise, it also rejected the ban on honorariums, but the issue didn't go away.
A commission appointed by Bush to recommend tighter ethics rules for government proposed a ban on all honorariums and more stringent limits on how much outside income can be earned by someone in government.
More recently, House Speaker Jim Wright was charged with ethics violations, stemming in part from his earnings on a book. The House ethics committee charged he used bulk sales of the book, "Reflections of a Public Man," to circumvent restrictions on outside income.
The financial disclosure requirement grew out of the Watergate-spawned demand for higher ethical standards in government. Congress adopted an ethics code in 1977 and put it into law in 1978.
Bush adopted most but not all of his commission's recommendations. He called for banning honorariums for judges but not for members of Congress.
He said he would deal with an honoraria ban when he again approaches the delicate issue of proposing a pay raise for Congress.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee that will consider Bush's ethics recommendations, said he favors a ban on congressional honorarium fees, although he would allow members to continue earning some outside income for such activities as teaching a course in law school.
Frank refuses honorariums, as do a number of freshman congressmen.
Congress is also required to disclose reimbursement for the "actual and necessary travel expenses incurred" when engaged in speechmaking.