The book they're throwing at Jim Wright is more than twice as long as the one that got the speaker of the House into trouble in the first place.
It's a government-tan paperback with the uninviting title "Report of the Special Outside Counsel in the Matter of James C. Wright, Jr." and it runs 279 pages.Wright's lucrative "Reflections of a Public Man" was 117 pages. It made Wright $54,642.25 in what the House Ethics Committee charges were actually disguised honorarium payments.
Wright says he never considered the book purchases to be speech payments. But the report recounts 11 cases in which the speaker, up against House limits on honoraria, made appearances before groups who then bought books instead of paying speech fees.
His so-called royalty was 55 percent, $3.25 a copy on a book that was priced at $5.95. According to the report, some of the interests that paid for books didn't bother to take any.
Richard J. Phelan of Chicago, outside counsel to the ethics committee, put together the Wright report, accusing the speaker of 116 violations of House rules. The committee voted to charge Wright with 69 of them. The Phelan report covers them all.
The accusations the committee voted to pursue center on the book deal and on benefits Wright received from George Mallick, a Fort Worth businessman.
But some of the most striking sections of the Phelan report cover alleged violations the committee is not pressing, involving Wright's interventions with federal savings and loan regulators.
That happened early in the savings and loan crisis. Wright's involvement in 1986 delayed action that might have started the government dealing with the process.
Republicans contend the cost of solving the S&L crisis would have been cut by half if the government had started closing down insolvent institutions and paying off insured depositors two years earlier. But the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. didn't have the money to do it.
Wright, then majority leader, delayed House action on a bill to provide it while he pressed with S&L regulators about their dealings with a Texas S&L operator. Edwin Gray, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, was said to figure that the only way to get action on the bill was to do what Wright wanted. So he changed supervisors at an S&L that was under board control.
The Phelan report likened that to blackmail.
The S&L bill was stalled for a week. It passed the House but didn't make it through the Senate before Congress adjourned. Legislation didn't become law until August 1987.
Wright also intervened in behalf of Thomas M. Gaubert, ousted by federal regulators as chairman of an insolvent S&L, and barred from getting back into the business under an agreement he had made with the bank board.
Wright called Gray. Eventually, the bank board chairman named a special counsel to review handling of the Gaubert case, even though he told the ethics committee he had no reason to doubt the original handling. The bank board still didn't have its recapitalization bill.
Soon after that, in November, 1986, Gray got another call from Wright, this one to complain more generally about the way S&Ls were being treated in Texas. In that call, Gray testified, Wright said that a top Texas regulator for the bank board was a homosexual who "had established a ring of homosexual lawyers in Texas at various law firms" and was forcing people to deal with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas through those lawyers.
Gray said Wright asked him to get rid of the man.
While Phelan recommended that Wright be charged with rules violations in the S&L cases, a divided committee didn't do so.
That probably reflects legislators' sensitivity about their own, presumably more restrained interventions with executive agencies in behalf of constituents. It is part of the job.