Rep. Jack Brinkley (D-Ga.) attempted to withhold a congressional report sharply critical of the cancer insurance offered by American Family Life Assurance Co. at a time when he owned 1,000 shares of stock in the company.
Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging that produced the report, identified Brinkley as part of a delegation from American Family that visited him in Miami last December 28.
"They wanted us to suppress the report," Pepper said in a telephone interview. "I told them we couldn't do that."
The report said the cancer insurance policies held by more than 4 million Americans are practically worthless and it suggested that their sale be banned. American Family has about 60 percent of the country's $300 million cancer insurance market.
Brinkley flew to Miami for the meeting with Pepper aboard an American Family plane along with company founder John B. Amos and two attorneys, Amos confirmed. The company, a large contributor to Brinkley's 1976 campaign, has its headquarters in his southwest Georgia district.
Asked whether Brinkley informed him that he was an American Family stockholder, Pepper said, "If he did, I don't recall it."
Pepper did recall, though, that he did not support Brinkley's bid for a place on his Aging Committee in January -- the same month the committee launched a full-scale inquiry into American Family and other dread-disease insurers who sell policies to the elderly.
Amos said in an interview that he asked Brinkley to seek a seat on the committee last January because "Jack's an honest man. I thought they needed a few on there."
Brinkley was one of dozens of congressmen that House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. passed over for committee membership.
Over the last two weeks, Brinkley did not respond to repeated telephone calls to his office and home. On Friday, however, after additional calls, he agreed to meet with a reporter in Columbus, Ga.
During that meeting, he denied any attempt to "suppress" the Aging Committee report.
"The effort was to let American Family have its say," he said. "For American Family, I did what I thought was right, at great personal inconvenience. I would have done the same for anyone else."
The congressman's actions on behalf of American Family may not constitute impropriety, despite his investment in the company, because a member has great latitude in performing services for constituents, according to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
"American Family is no small industry in Columbus, Ga.," Amos said in a telephone interview. Brinkley is from Columbus and millionaire Amos has long been a Brinkley ally. The political action committee of American Family has been one of Brinkley's prime campaign contributors.
On Nov. 2, 1978, Brinkley paid $11,000 for 1,000 shares of American Family stock, according to his financial disclosure statement filed on May 4, 1979, with the Clerk of the House.
Brinkley said Friday he sold the stock last Jan. 3 at a price of $9.25 a share. That price indicates that he took a $1,750 loss on his block of 1,000 shares.
Dean Sharp, a Washington attorney representing Amos, and who accompanied him to Miami for the meeting with Pepper, said in a telephone interview that American Family asked Pepper to delay for "at least six weeks" release of the staff study so that it would be issued simultaneously with the hearing transcript that contained American Family's rebuttal.
Brinkley was at the half-hour session at Pepper's main office because, Amos said, "Jack was my congressman and if I wanted to meet Claude Pepper and talk with him I should have my congressman with me."
Amos said he couldn't remember what Brinkley said at the meeting, but I'm sure he advocated" protecting American Family.
Amos and Sharp said that in the months after the meeting with Pepper, the committee has turned away from a deeper probe of the cancer insurance industry.
Pepper firmly denied that. "We haven't dropped our interest in it at all," he said.
American Family has 4.7 million cancer policies in force worldwide, and in 1977 reported a gross income of $214 million.
Brinkley, 48, is a six-term congressman who was unopposed for reelection in 1978.