The House Ethics Committee has concluded that Speaker Jim Wright probably violated the chamber's rules by failing to report benefits from a Texas business partner as gifts.
A source familiar with the investigation said late Monday that the committee has found "reason to believe" that Wright violated the gift-reporting rules on benefits given to him and his wife by the business associate in Fort Worth.The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say how many instances of failure to report gifts had been identified by the panel.
But the number could easily be in the dozens, because several benefits Wright received continued over a period of years and would have had to be reported on each year's financial disclosure form. Among the benefits under scrutiny are his virtually free use of a condominium in Texas, an $18,000 salary for his wife, Betty, and use of a 1979 Cadillac.
CBS News reported Monday that the committee had found 30 instances of possible rules violations by Wright.
The committee, which resumes deliberations Tuesday in what is expected to be its final week before issuing a report, is engaged in a process not unlike that of a grand jury.
Finding "reason to believe" that rules have been violated would be equivalent to an indictment of Wright. The speaker would then have a chance to defend himself in a disciplinary hearing, the equivalent of a trial.
Wright reported his wife's employment with Fort Worth developer George Mallick on his financial disclosure forms as salary for her work. But the ethics panel's outside counsel, Richard Phelan, argued that the salary amounted to a gift because Mrs. Wright did little work in exchange for it.
Wright, Mallick and their wives jointly formed a small investment company called "Mallightco" and used it to make several investments. Mrs. Wright first drew her salary directly from Mallick's development company and then from the partnership between 1981 and 1984.
Wright made no mention on the disclosure forms of the car or the condominium, which he now contends were simply fringe benefits from Mrs. Wright's employment.
Remaining to be resolved are a number of more serious charges against Wright, including whether Mallick had "direct interest in legislation" before Congress. That would make any gift worth more than $100 improper under House rules.