William Proxmire has fleeced himself.
For years, the outspoken Wisconsin senator has been handing out monthly Golden Fleece awards pillorying government expenditures that he regards as wasteful.
Often in his indignation he has made fun of both granting agency and grant recipient.
Yesterday Proxmire announced that he will pay $10,000 from his own funds as an out-of-court settlement with Dr. Ronald Hutchinson, a behavioral scientist.
The settlement stems from an April 1975 Golden Fleece award to three government scientific agencies for spending $500,000 on Hutchinson's research on aggressiveness in monkeys.
Proxmire said Hutchinson's studies "should make the taxpayers as well as his monkeys grind their teeth."
Hutchinson, then director of research at Kalamazoo, Mich., State Mental Hospital, filed an $8 million libel suit against Proxmire.
Two lower federal courts ruled that Hutchinson could not collect because the Constitution's speech-and-debate clause protected Proxmire.
But last year the Supreme Court ruled that the clause does not apply to press releases such as the ones Proxmire issues to announce his Golden Fleeces.
The case was remanded to a lower court, where both Proxmire and Hutchinson won some legal points, but neither scored a knockout.
Proxmire's legal defense cost taxpayers $124,351, a Senate Rules Committee aide said yesterday.
In his announcement yesterday, Proxmire said he and Hutchinson "have agreed that further litigation is unnecessary." The senator also admitted that some of the statements in his 1975 release about Hutchinson were incorrect.
"I stated that all of the public funding was given to Dr. Hutchinson of Kalamazoo State Hospital. While Dr. Hutchinson directed the research, the federal funding went to the State of Michigan for this research. Dr. Hutchinson received his salary as an employe of the state," Proxmire's statement said.
"I stated that Dr. Hutchinson's projects were extremely similar and perhaps duplicative. I know of no evidence that Dr. Hutchinson ever received extra money for work that duplicated earlier work that had already been funded," Proxmire said.
"In my press release, I stated that Dr. Hutchinson made a fortune from his monkeys. While the amount of federal expenditure was large and provided support for Dr. Hutchinson's research for a number of years, the fact is that Dr. Hutchinson did not make a personal fortune.
One Proxmire aide dismissed the $10,000 settlement as "nuisance money." The aide, apparently groping to save some face, added, "There's not a word in the senator's statement that says 'I apologize.'"
A Proxmire aide said last night that the senator will continue to award Golden Fleeces.