President Reagan's appointees to the board of the Legal Service Corp., the program that provides free legal help to the poor, have been collecting large consulting fees for their part-time jobs, at least twice as large as those paid to any previous board in the program's history.
"I must tell you that it has a bad appearance," Rep. M. Caldwell Butler (R-Va.) told a congressional oversight hearing yesterday. "I'm a Republican, and we bring in Republicans to reform [the program], and it sounds a lot like the first thing they did was put all four feet and a snout in the trough."
Rep. Harold S. Sawyer (R-Mich.) said, "It really offends me that you people are doing this," He noted that board Chairman William F. Harvey submitted consulting bills for $25,028 in the first 11 months of this year.
"Here the board members are making a substantial amount of money for just a part-time thing," he said. "I know there are top-flight lawyers in the U.S.... who would devote pro bono [free] time without taking this kind of money out of the program." Sawyer added that the president of the American Bar Association serves a one-year term which is virtually full-time with no payment besides expenses.
Documents provided by Legal Services to the House Judiciary subcommittee on oversight indicate that the 11-member Reagan board collected $156,201 in consulting fees in the first 11 months of 1982, compared to $72,029 for the previous board in a year.
In fact, the overall budget for the board of directors has grown from $113,721 on Sept. 30, 1981, under the old board, to $273,731 on the same day this year, according to Legal Services Corp. figures.
Since the program was created in 1975, directors have been entitled to reimbursement for expenses and to a consulting fee for the time they work.
But in most cases those fees have been small. Last year, for example, former board chairman William McCalpin, who was appointed by President Carter, collected $4,704 in consulting fees.
William Olson, a Reagan board member who testified yesterday, rejected a suggestion by Butler that the $221-a-day consulting fee be limited, suggesting that this board may be working harder than previous ones.
Olson, 33, a Washington lawyer, collected $19,721 in consulting fees, but he said he considers his work on the board to be "pro bono work" because the $29-an-hour consulting fee is less than he earns at his law firm.
Reagan twice has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Congress to abolish Legal Services.
Last week, he withdrew all his formal nominations for the board when he received word from the Senate that neither Harvey nor Olson would be confirmed.
The board has been serving all year in recess appointment that will expire when Congress adjourns for the year, possibly by the end of this week.
Legal Services payment records obtained by the Washington Post indicate that Harvey, who does not like to travel on airplanes, frequently billed the corporation at the $221-a-day rate for his driving time. Under Legal Services guidelines, board members are allowed to charge as consultants for the time they spend traveling.
In some cases, the 615-mile trip each way from Indianapolis to Washington was billed for two days in each direction, in addition to automobile expenses, lodging expenses and meals on the trips.
Harvey also had some substantial expenses during his trips on official business.
On a trip to Washington in late October and early November for a two-day board meeting and related business, Harvey was reimbursed for $194.22 in postal expenses and $55.85 in taxi expenses.
He tried to charge the program for his four nights at the Watergate Hotel at $131.80 a night, but the corporation paid only $69.78 a night.
On another trip in May in which he spent five nights in Washington, Harvey spent $147.05 on taxis and $63 on long-distance phone calls. On a six-day trip in March, he collected on a long-distance phone bill of $118.28, in addition to other travel expenses.
Harvey, who did not return telephone calls yesterday, is not the only board member with large consulting fees or expenses.
Daniel Rathbun, 23, an undergraduate student who was added to the board by Reagan in late October, collected $1,032.07, not including his travel expenses, by working for 35 hours over six days.
Another board member, Clarence McKee, has flown first-class several times.
He said yesterday that he needs the larger seats because he suffers from sciatica, a back condition, and that he had submitted letters from his doctor to the board to justify the expense.
A source at Legal Services said yesterday that the doctor's note was not turned in until last week, after Congress requested the travel records. McKee collected $15,757 in consulting fees.