WITH THE RECOMMENDATIONS for House disciplinary action against three members, the House ethics committee's investigation of alleged Korean influence-peddling is winding down. The panel could not clarify the role of South Korean officials or determine whether any member of Congress knowingly violated the constitutional ban on accepting anything from an agent of a foreign government. So the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct wound up back where it started - by considering the largess that was spread around Capitol Hill by Korean rice broker and party-giver Tongsun Park.
Mr. Park testified that, in giving cash and presents to more than 30 legislators over several years, he wanted to "recognize" those who were helpful to his country and his rice dealings. Former Rep. Richard Hanna (D-Cal.), who got over $200,000 from Mr. Park, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in March. Federal influence-peddling charges against former Rep. Otto E. Passman (D-La.) are pending. However, the ethics committee's mandate includes only current House members. The panel has not found the direct links between favors and official actions needed to prove that any of them were on the take.
What has been confirmed is that a lot of lawmakers did take Mr. Park's offerings with precious few questions asked. That climate of easy acceptance is typified by the case of Rep. John J. McFall (D-Cal.) In October 1974 Mr. Park gave $3,000 in cash to Mr. McFall's chief assistant with a note wishing the congressman well in his campaign. Believing that donations from foreign nationals were illegal (which they were not at the time), Mr. McFall decided to put the money in his office account, which then did not have to be disclosed. He later borrowed briefly from that account to help his daughter buy a car. Aside from the way the cash traveled, undisclosed at the time, what stands out is that apparently Mr. McFall never considered turning down the gift.
The House panel has recommended that Mr. McFall be reprimanded - a mild step - for failing to report a campaign contribution properly. It has also asked the House to censure Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Cal.) for converting a $1,000 contribution from Mr. Park to personal use and lying about it under oath, and to reprimand Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Cal.) for failing to tell the panel about a wedding gift of cash from Mr. Park. Three cases may seem like small results for such a large inquiry. But the committee had a hard time defining any further violations. The House's rule on ethics, reflecting the prevailing morality, were very easygoing in Mr. Park's heyday.
In that sense, time have already changed. The current campaign laws, and the code of ethics that the House reaffirmed last month, clearly outlaw covert contributions, slush funds, major gifts from lobbyists, and casual transfers of money between political and personal accounts. If the new standards are well policed and maintained, the House should be much less hospitable to the next hustler who tries to sprinkle cash around like rice.