The congressman who hosted 13 Democratic House members on a tour of mining facilities in Southwest Virginia said yesterday that he did not accept the $2,000 honorarium offered to his colleagues and one of them said he passed his payment on to a charity.
Rep. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Va.) said that while he did not accept any money from the United Coal Co., he said it was common practice to offer honorariums for such trips and that he believes the payments to the 13 lawmakers were proper.
A spokesman for Rep. John W. Bryant (D-Tex.) said Bryant directed that his $2,000 be given to the Circle Ten Council of the Boy Scouts of America in Dallas. "That is consistent with what he has done with such things in the past," said Bryant's press secretary, Carlton Carl.
Jim Ferreira, Republican Party chairman in Boucher's 9th Congressional District, said the payments "smell of influence peddling. It doesn't make sense to accept money for a personal appearance, even though House ethics rules permit it. If you make a speech or write an article, that's a whole lot different than just showing up."
The congressmen, most of them members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees mining regulations, flew to United Coal's headquarters in Bristol, Va., in Boucher's district, on Monday aboard the coal company's luxury 727 jet, toured the company's mines and attended a dinner to discuss energy issues.
Boucher said "members of Congress are very busy individuals. They have a number of invitations for their presence every day. It's a fact of life if you're going to obtain their presence, providing some compensation is necessary."
A spokesman for United Coal said "Congressman Boucher really arranged the trip. We didn't have much to do with it. Boucher's thought was that it would be helpful to have members of Congress familiarize themselves" with the coal industry.
Ferreira, a former aide to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), lamented that his party has no candidate to oppose Boucher in the fall elections, but said that when a newspaper prints a story like that, "that participates in the system as much as we are."