Industries give honorariums to senators on committees that can most help or hurt them, a study by Public Citizen concluded Thursday, and the advocacy group's president said the practice is simply "legalized bribery."
Although the pattern is not ironclad, the study, spanning 1984 to 1987, showed the leading Senate recipients of speaking fees and other honorariums from specific industries were senators who were members of either the authorization or appropriations panels most intimately involved with that business.Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranked third in the amount of honorariums, according to the report.
The study was conducted by Congress Watch, a branch of the national consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader.
The report found the financial industry, which provided senators with $1.3 million in honorariums over four years, was the biggest payer of speaking fees.
"The financial trade associations, like other industry groups, view honorarium giving as yet another opportunity to gain access and influence with members of Congress," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "These contributions, which go directly into the pockets of our nation's lawmakers, amount to nothing more than legalized bribery."
The report said that 10 senators who averaged the most in honorariums from the food industry over the four years were all members of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The report also cited that nine of the 10 honorarium leaders from the energy and the telecommunications industry were members of committees that deal with those subjects.
For other industries, the ratio was also high, the report said: 10 of 12 in transportation; nine of 11 in health; eight of 10 in financial interests and the defense industry; seven of 10 for utilities, and seven of 11 for labor.
But Public Citizen's study also showed that of the 10 top recipients from the building industry, only three served on committees involved in that area. The ratio for the insurance industry was five of 10; the computer industry four of 10; the advertising industry, four of 10.
At present, senators are allowed to keep honorariums totaling 40 percent of their salaries or $35,800. More than that can be accepted only if it is given to charity.
The Senate and House were prepared early this year to put a ban on honorariums in return for a 50 percent salary increase to $135,000. Congress, however, killed the pay raise and left the honorarium limit untouched.
More recently, President Bush proposed a 25 percent increase for federal judges, but he did not recommend a salary increase for members of Congress or propose a ban on honorariums.
In a report to Bush, the Commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform described honorariums as "camouflage" for special-interest groups seeking to influence members of Congress and urged a ban.
Over the four years covered by the study, senators earned more than $9.5 million in honorariums. The financial industry was tops with $1.3 million in payments, followed by the food and beverage industry with $1.8 million.