BERT LANCE is now under two federal court injunctions. A certain pattern seems to be forming. Here in Washington, a judge ordered Mr. Lance and his associates to desist, for the time being, from their efforts to take over Financial General Bankshares. The issue was whether the Lance group was evading the reporting requirements that law imposes. In Atlanta, Mr. Lance promised another court to stay out of the banking business altogether for the next six months and , if eventually returns to it, to give government 60 day's notice. It appears that the enforcement agencies want some warning.
The Atlanta court issued its injunction in response to a complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining Mr. Lance's financial operations in the years before he came to Washington. Mr. Lance has issued a terse statement asserting that the suit reveals nothing that was not known by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last summer. But that's not quite accurate. The complaint describes, in great detail , the manner in which he juggled money that belonged, not to him, but to his depositors and stockholders. The court has ordered Mr. Lance in the future not to engage in "fraud or deceit," not to make any untrue statement in his banking reports to the government, not to kite checks and not to engage in checking accounts. The SEC has accused him of all those things, and he has chosen to adopt the court's order without contest.
It has been hardly two weeks since Mr. Lance declared, in a memorable speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, that the press was destroying his reputation. Newspapers had created a general impression, he said, that he's a "shady character" with a tendency to cut corners, and that he exploited his public office as director of management and budget as well as his relationship with the president. "Are these impressions correct? No. Are any of these things true? Absolutely not. Not one."
That's what he said. But there is a very substantial public record of Mr. Lance's banking activities, beginning with the report last August by the comptroller of the currency, and extending through the recent SEC filings. The damage to Mr. Lance's reputation does not originate in the headlines, but in the page after page of close-grained descriptions of his management of bank accounts and stock operations.
Why return once again to the subject of Mr. Lance? Because a certain mythology is growing up around the case, and it is important to keep the record in mind. Mr. Lance has appeared, from time to time, to be turning into a symbol for one political purpose or another. According to one view, he symbolizes the businessman who enters public service and becomes the victim of the alleged anti-business and leftist biases in the national press. Another version has him in the role of the poor boy from the South, who made his fortune the hard way is savaged by an arrogant jealous Eastern Establishment. That idea seems to enjoy occasional populairty at the White House. Still another view suggests the supersalesman, engaging in his manner but loose in his methods, whose sudden rise to political power attracts closer attention than his affairs can comfortably withstand.
The choice among those competing interpretations of the Lance affair does not rest entirely upon one's general opinion of newspapers, or bankers of the Eastern Establishment. A factual record exists that, after repeated and unchallenged examination, has to be accepted as accurate. There is a judgment contained in the steady accumulation of officials reports, suits, responses and, now, two injunctions - a judgement that suggests something very close to the very same impressions of Mr. Lance that he has so vigorously denounced.