The House voted yesterday to reprimand three colleagues for their roles in the South Korean influence-buying scandal, after rejecting a stronger penalty against one, Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.).
By a vote of 210 to 170 the House accepted a motion to recommit a proposed censure of Roybal to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The House then voted immediately, by voice vote to reprimand Roybal instead.
Earlier the House voted 328 to 41, with 29 members voting present, to reprimand Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.). By voice vote they also approveda reprimand for Rep. John J. McFall (D-Calif.).
Wilson had been found guilty of making a false statement about cash the received as "wedding present" from South Korean businessman Tongsun Park in 1975. McFall was disciplined for falling to report as a campaign contribution $3,000 he accepted for Park in 1974.
The committee had charged Roybal with taking $1,000 from Park in 1974, converting it to his own use, and then lying repeatedly about the transaction to investigators.
Rep. John J. Flynt Jr. (D-Ga.), the committee chairman, and Rep. Floyd D. Spence (R-S.C.) both made forceful statements about the need for the House to carry out the discipline.
When members of the California delegation moved to reduce the penalty against Roybal, Flynt noted that his committee seemed prepared to recommend expulsion until he persuaded them to settle for recommending censure, a more severe penalty than a reprimand.
Yesterday's reprimands were the first disciplinary actions against House members since the 1976 reprimand of Rep. Robert L. F. Sikes (D-Fla.). The reprimands do not affect the members' voting rights.
Roybal said after the vote to lower his penalty: "This is certainly a victory for me, for the civil rights of all congressmen, and for all Americans who believe in the constitutional rights to equal justice for all Americans."
He said that the decision "shows the potential strength of the Hispanic community when it unifies behind a cause. This is, then, not only a personal victory for me, but for all Hispanics throughout the nation."
The debate on the Roybal case was marked by charges that committee investigators had been unfair - including a suggestion that they broke into Roybal's office - and that the proposed Roybal penalty was too severe.
A stream of California delegation members spoke about their belief in Roybal's personal integrity.
Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested that Hispanics throughout the nation perceived the proposed censure as unequal treatment of Roybal, who is of Hispanic heritage. Mitchell also suggested that members of the committee staff may have broke into Roybal's office over the last few weeks in their zeal to justify their investigation.
Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) also questioned whether Roybal was being treated differently because of his Hispanic background. Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.) finally asked committee members if there had been any ethnic consideration in the committee's deliberations.
Rep. Millicent H. Fenwick (R-N.J.) responded angrily, "Is there no human trust left? Man we really be accused of anything so loathsome as racial or ethnic consideration when dealing with someone's reputation? That must be most indignantly rejected."
Fenwick also told Mitchell that the alleged break-in to which he referred had come three days after the case against Roybal had been completed by the committee.
Roybal took the floor to complain that leaks by the staff had hurt his case. He called the proposed censure "cruel and unusual punishment."
He also thanked his colleagues and the Hispanic community for their support.
THe reprimands of Wilson and McFall were approved earlier, though there was spirited debate on those cases, too.
Both men said in floor speeches that they would not contest the committee's findings. Wilson called his alleged false statement "an inadvertent failure."
He said, "Even this mild rebuke is cruel." But he said he was willing to accept the reprimand because members of Congress needed to be held to high standards.
Reps. William Clay (D-Mo.) and Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) took the floor after Wilson to criticise the House for singling out the three members for discipline.
Clay, referring to the bloodthirsty scribes" in the press gallery, aked how the great scandal that predicted 115 members were involved had dwindled down to three.
He labeled the committee investigation "an inquistion," and said the entire proceeding was "a sham and a mockery."
Dellums added: "This entire thing stinks to the high heavens." He criticized the committee for having no set procedures for its unrepresentative of the House because its membership included no blacks or Hispanic Americans.
Flynt, in responding to criticism of the Wilson charge, said the California congressman had corrected his false testimony only after he learned that Tongsun Park was telling investigators whom he paid, and after Wilson has been scheduled to give a deposition to the committee.