The House ethics committee has concluded that Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.) violated House rules by accepting at least 68, and possibly 200, free flights from a defense contractor and by falsely billing the government for car travel he did not take, but it recommended that Daniel not be punished.
The committee said it voted unanimously against imposing sanctions because it believed Daniel had misunderstood House rules and because Daniel had reimbursed Beech Aircraft Corp. $7,663 for the free trips, and the House $1,343 for false automobile vouchers.
In a report issued yesterday, the committee also said it found no sign of an improper relationship between Beech and Daniel because there was no "evidence that the flights were actually provided to influence Daniel's official actions or in appreciation for favorable actions . . . . "
In a statement released by his office yesterday, Daniel, who recently announced he would run for a 10th term, said: "I'm pleased that this has now been resolved. Certainly there was no conscious attempt to circumvent House rules, and any technical violations were unintentional."
The ethics investigation was begun last September after news reports revealed that Daniel, 71, a conservative Democrat from southern Virginia, had accepted free airplane trips from Beech while urging Congress to direct the Pentagon to buy 24 Beech C12 airplanes.
Daniel and the House report said that the committee largely accepted Daniel's explanations for the problems.
The report said it was "troubling" that Daniel appeared to know some rules and not others, but said the committee assumed that Daniel was telling the truth, "in the light that his assertion was submitted under penalty of perjury, coupled with the absence of any indication of bad faith by the congressman."
According to the report, investigators found that from 1977 to 1985 Daniel received at least 68 free trips from Beech. In addition, William G. Rutherford, an official in Beech's Washington office and a friend and golfing partner of Daniel, told investigators that Daniel's free trips may have exceeded 200.
The investigators could find no Beech records of other trips, however, and Daniel said he could not remember the trips and was therefore relying on Beech records.
Of the 68 free trips that the committee could document, 21 were made to Daniel's congressional district. Many of the others were outside Virginia for golf games. House rules require members to disclose gifts of transportation totaling more than $250 annually.
Daniel did not originally disclose the trips, although he amended his financial statements in September and last month.
The rules also prohibit members from accepting gifts totaling more than $100 annually from companies having a "direct interest in legislation." The committee concluded that Beech is such an organization and that Daniel's acceptance of the free trips constituted a violation of the rule.
On Sept. 12, several days after news stories appeared about the free plane trips but a week before the House ethics committee began its probe, Daniel sent Beech a check for $1,127 for 23 free trips.
During the subsequent investigation, committee staff members compared Daniel's travel expense vouchers with his flight information and uncovered other free trips from Beech. Investigators also noticed that car mileage vouchers were submitted for trips that Daniel had taken on private aircraft provided by Beech.
Daniel told the committee he asked for mileage payments because the car was driven to the district by his wife or a staff member so that he would have a car for official business. He thought that was permitted, he said. Last month, he sent a check to reimburse the House for the 19 erroneous vouchers and a check to Beech for the additional flights.
House members are provided with official travel allowances to their districts, and House rules prohibit members from using private funds to augment their official accounts. Under law, it is also illegal to knowingly submit a false or fictitious claim to the government.
While the committee found that Daniel had violated House rules on official business travel, it concluded that Daniel had not "knowingly" submitted the false vouchers and said Daniel "promptly reimbursed" Beech and the government "on his own initiative" when he became aware of the problems.