Six of the 14 members of Congress who flew to southwestern Virginia this week to tour a coal mine and attend a dinner discussion of energy issues say they will refuse or give to charity the $2,000 honorarium that each was offered. The honorariums drew some concern on Capitol Hill about payments for personal appearances.
The 14, all Democrats, flew to southwestern Virginia Monday on a luxury Boeing 727 jet owned by United Coal Co., toured the company mines in Bristol and attended a dinner and discussion on energy issues with industry executives. The one-day visit was in the district of Rep. Frederick C. Boucher, who arranged the trip. Most are members of committees overseeing energy legislation.
House rules allow a member to accept a payment of up to $2,000 for "personal appearances, articles, speeches and similar services." But critics said that the honorariums are often thinly veiled influence peddling, and the visit this week also drew fire from the United Mine Workers because the lawmakers talked to none of the union's members.
Four of the six who refused the payment or said they will give it to charity are members of a House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee that is inquiring into possible conflicts of interest involving former presidential aide Michael Deaver.
Lois Davis, a spokesman for Rep. Ron Wyden (Ore.), one of the subcommittee members, said, "He just didn't feel comfortable in taking an honorarium for this."
The others who said they will refuse payment are Boucher, who accepts no honorariums, and Rep. Ronald D. Coleman (Tex.). Three others -- Reps. John W. Bryant (Tex.), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) and Jim Slattery (Kan.), all members of the investigations subcommittee of Energy and Commerce, said they will give their checks to charity.
A spokesman for Slattery said the decision to give the money to charity was made at random and that the congressman was "a little surprised" by the attention given the issue. Shelby will send his check to a University of Alabama mining institute because he is interested in "clean coal technology," a spokesman said.
Wayne Bell, senior vice president of United Coal, said yesterday that only Boucher and Wyden had refused the payment before the checks were mailed Thursday night or yesterday morning.
He said Bryant directed that his check be sent to a charity.
Five other members of the delegation that made the trip said they would accept the $2,000 each, which they defended as proper and legal under House ethics rules.
The intentions of three others could not be determined.
Some of those accepting the payment said it had brought unwelcome attention.
An aide to Rep. William V. (Bill) Alexander (Ark.), who is accepting the $2,000, said yesterday the congressman, who is deputy majority whip, has "taken absolute needless flak" for an "absolutely legal, normal occurrence."
She said his policy is to refuse payment for appearing before those with an interest in legislation immediately pending before a committee on which he serves or is scheduled for House floor action.
Also intending to accept the payment, according to aides, are Reps. Wayne Dowdy (Miss.), Mickey Leland (Tex.), William B. Richardson (N.M.) and W.J. (Billy) Tauzin (La.).
A spokesman for Tauzin, Jack Holliday, quoted him as saying after the trip that it "was a long and arduous day. Just because we were flown down there on a jet doesn't mean it was a vacation day."
Spokesmen for Reps. Jim Bates (Calif.), Gerry E. Sikorski (Minn.) and Brian J. Donnelly (Mass.) said they did not know whether the legislators would accept the payment.