TWO PROMINENT senators. Much marital bitterness in the divorce proceedings of each. From the beginning the troubles of Sens. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) and Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) were destined for the public domain. Now, their divorce proceedings have emobroiled each senator in an embarassing public discussion of his finances and the truthfulness of financial statements made to the Senate. At issue more generally in both affairs is the willingness of the Senate to abide by its own rules and police the conduct of its members.
Sen. Talmadge's divorce proceedings revealed that, in the course of his career in public office, he has received from constituents thousands of dollars cumulatively, in sums, according to his account, under $25, and that he has used that money to pay his daily expenses. Sen. Talmadge, whose financial statements show him to be a millionaire, said he never sought those donations and never reported them because he considered them "gifts," not campaign contributions. Campaign contributions must be reported to the Senate; gifts of a value less than $35 need not be. In addition, Sen. Talmadge has acknowledged failing to report to the Senate the use of $27,000 in personal funds for campaign expenses in 1973 and 1974.Spokesmen for the senator said the failure was unintentional and a "technical error."
Sen. Brooke has acknowledged that in a deposition taken for his divorce proceedings last year he falsely stated the amount of a loan from a friend and that he personally has used some money from the estate of his mother-in-law. Sen. Brooke said he inflated the amount of the loan from $2,000 to $49,000 for the divorce proceedings (which have been reopened). Senate rules require than any loan over $2,500 be reported. If his account is true, Sen. Brooke hasn't broken any State rules, but he may face an indictment for perjury in Massachusetts.
The revelations about the two senators have set in motion an investigation of their finances (which both have requested) by the staff of the Senate Ethics Committee. Committee staff members are scheduled to interview Sen. Talmadge today. Committee Chairman Adlai E. Stevenson (D-Ill.) must decide, on the basis of the staff report, whether an investigation by the full committee is warranted. If that is necessary for either senator, the committee should hold, as quickly as possible, open hearings so that the public, too, can examine these matters, which affect personal reputations and political careers. If the staff personal finds no need for hearings, that report should be made public. For it seems to us the matter involves a larger question than just the propriety of a senator's financial reports. That is the will of the entire Senate to hold its members accountable to the standards of conduct it sets for itself.