An official of the United Mine Workers yesterday criticized the payment of $2,000 to 13 members of Congress who participated in a coal company-funded tour of mines in southwestern Virginia and questioned why the lawmakers didn't talk to any union members.
Fourteen Democratic members of Congress, all but one of whom serve on House committees overseeing mining legislation, flew to southwestern Virginia on a United Coal Co. luxury 727 jet for a tour of coal mines, a dinner and a discussion with industry executives.
Each was given a $2,000 honorarium for the visit to Bristol with the exception of Rep. Frederick C. Boucher (D-Va.), who said he was not offered the money because he was the host for the trip to his home district.
One participant, Rep. John W. Bryant (D-Tex.) said he gave his payment to charity.
"I never did get $2,000 for a visit with anybody," said Don McCamey, vice president of District 28 of the United Mine Workers in southwestern Virginia. "I'd feel kind of funny taking that kind of pay unless I was doing somebody a service."
Boucher reiterated yesterday that he considers the payments proper and necessary to persuade busy members of Congress to make the trip.
House members are permitted under ethics rules to accept honorariums of up to $2,000 for "personal appearances, articles, speeches and similar services," but the payments have drawn fire from critics who allege they are influence peddling in disguise.
McCamey also criticized the visit because the lawmakers talked to no union members. The UMW, with more than 5,200 active members in the area, represents more than half the coal miners in southwestern Virginia, McCamey said. "
Boucher apologized for the lack of a union participant in the panel discussion of energy issues.
"It was an oversight," he said. "I don't think it was detrimental to the UMW that they were not represented."
Boucher, who has been endorsed by the UMW in the past and is unopposed this year in his campaign for reelection, said the trip focused on legislation to benefit the entire industry, "not issues on which there is a labor-management difference."