Rep. George V. Hansen (R-Idaho), who earlier this year was restrained by the House Select Committee on Ethics from soliciting contributions to pay off personal debts he says were caused by his being in politics, is having the debts paid off anyway.
Hansen's wife, Connie, got around the ban by using Idaho's community property laws and a loophole in the House conduct rules to launch a mass-mailing fund-raising drive in her own name to bring the Hansen family as much as $250,000 toward clearing its debt.
The head of the advertising agency handling the mass mailing, James Martin, said. "We're on our way. We're successfully chipping away at the debt."
Martin was unable to provide a total amount raised so far, because the return envelopes sent with the soliciting letters are simply addressed to the Hansens' Arlington home and the records are kept there. The Hansens declined to say how much they have raised.
Martin and his firm has made a dozen mass mailings and that the contributions have averaged about $15 apiece. He said he did not know how many letters in all were sent.
The mailing list of conservative contributors or potential contributors, it was learned, was purchased from a subsidiary firm of Richard A. Viguerie, a successful fund-raiser for conservative causes and candidates, including Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace.
There is nothing in the House rules or campaign financing statutes that requires Mrs. Hansen to account for whatever amount she can raise, and the contributions are not counted as taxable income because the Internal Revenue Service classifies them as gifts.
To circumvent House rules against raising money for unrestricted personal use, the Hansens drafted a community property settlement in which Mrs. Hansen incurred all of the debts that Hansen categorized as resulting directly or indirectly from "personal attacks" based on his political activities.
He said these include debts stemming from losses in two private businesses that were neglected while he defended himself against criminal charges that he violated campaign financing laws in 1974.
Hansen pleaded guilty in 1975 to two counts of improperly reporting campaign contributions and expenses, and was sentenced to two months in federal prison. The prison term later was lifted by U.S. District Court, Judge George L. Hart, Jr. who fined Hansen $2,000.
Hansen said the politically caused debts also include legal, accounting and public relations costs he said he incurred during a "sustained personal assault" against him.
The attacks, he said, were carried out by political enemies who included, at one time, then-Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), the deposed chairman of the House Administration Committee, and others who opposed his conservative views.
Hansen said other costs to be covered by the fund-raising include an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit he filed against Democratic officials, airplane travel for himself and his family while he defended his record to his constituency, and miscellaneous expenses he said he associated with "a disrupted life."
Hansen emphasized that the costs associated with "personal attacks" against him were separate from cases stemming from what he termed "political assaults." The letter, he said, could be - and were - paid out of traditional campaign contributions controlled by federal election law.
He said his campaign committee spent about $400,000 over the 1974 and 1976 congressional campaigns, several times more than he would normally expect to spend in a House race in Idaho.
Hansen also said he legally could - and did - spend some of the campaign contributions for legal defense fees connected with the election law violations charged against him.
He said what he and his wife did was to divide the family's current debts between purely household liabilities and outstanding obligations related to Hansen's political life. Hansen assumed the household indebtedness - such as for home mortgages and automobiles - and his wife assumed the other debts that the family decided were "politically caused."
"The only reason I have the [debt] problem is that I am in politics . . . I don't want anybody paying to put bread on my table. But, if the political process put this burden on me, why shouldn't the political process pay for it?" asked Hansen, whose annual congressional salary is $57,500.
The familys fund-raising scheme began in March when Hansen asked for, and received, Federal Election Commission permission to solicit gifts through a mass mailing for his personal use.
However, in April the House Select Committee on Ethics decided unanimously that such an appeal, under House rules, must be treated as a campaign fund-raising event and could not be put to personal use. The committee also amended its rule to prohibit a member's spouse from making such a fund-raising appeal on behalf of a member.