Three weeks after he retired last January, former Rep. Bob Jones (D-Ala.) was sent a check for $18,847 - the accumulated balanced in his House stationery account.
Jones wasn't the only former congressman who legally received stationery account funds after leaving office. In all, the Clerk of the House paid out $57,157 in leftover stationery money to 39 retired or defeated members. Thirteen of them received more than $1,000.
While some of those interviewed by Congressional Quarterly said the money was used for official business expenditures, others, including Jones, said they spent it for themselves.
A spekesman for the House clerk's office said members were allowed to withdraw stationery account funds for personal, noncongressional uses until the end of the previous Congress on Jan. 3, but are supposed to report the money on their income tax returns. The Report of the Clerk of the House for the first half of 1977 also lists 172 members currently in office who last January received the remainder of their now-abolished stationery allowances, totaling $166,348.
Jones said he "returned" to the Treasury $245,455 in other congressional office allowances - such as those for staff, telephones and office equipment - between 1971 and 1975. Unlike the stationery money, however, Jones could not have withdrawn those funds for his personal use. (It is a common practice for members to publicize figures of unexpended office accounts to suggest to their constituents that they are saving taxpayers money.)
Jones' $18,847 was the largest single withdrawal of these funds in the clerk's report. Jones said he saw nothing in personal use of money intended for a specific governmental purpose.
Jones said his figures "show I was frugal in all aspects of my congressional operation." Asked why his frugality did not extend to his stationery funds, Jones said he was forced "by law" to keep the $18,847.
However, Jones could have left the money in the House revolving fund or he could have returned it to the Treasury.
The clerk's report lists 89 members who made "gifts" of stationery funds to the Treasury totaling $30,148. Members who neglected to withdraw unspent balances at the end of the last Congress were included in this category.
The $6,5000-a-year stationery account, which had been the subject of recuring controversy, allowed members to accumulate the unexpended balance in their accounts from year to year. Beginning this year the stationery account was eliminated as a separate fund. It was replaced by a $54,000 account members can use for a variety of purposes.
Other former members besides Jones defended their taking out of stationery funds. Thomas M. Rees (D-Calif.) withdrew $1,042 because, he said, the clerk's office informed him the money would be considered part of his income. "I spent eight years trying to do away with the stationery account." Rees said the money went for "personal expenses."
Former Rep. Ray J. Madden (D-Ind.) who collected $5,865, said he took the money because, "That was the custom on the stationery account . . . I don't see anything wrong about it because that's part of the policy of the Congress."
Some former House members said they used the money for official business. Gilbert Gude (R-Md.) withdrew $2,985 that he used "to cover congressional office expenses." Gude, who now heads the Congressional Research Service (part of the Library of Congress), said the money was taxable income and that if he turned it back to the Treasury, "you would be paying taxes on something you didn't receive."