NO, YOU didn't dream it. You read it in the paper last week. The incoming president of the Legal Services Corporation has a contract that reimburses him for paid membership in a private club of his choosing. The new appointee, Donald Bogard, also gets a year's severance pay if he is fired --a distinct possibility, since President Reagan has withdrawn the nominations of the Legal Services board members who appointed him. And he can get unlimited amounts for food and lodging, plus two trips a month back home, while his family remains in Indianapolis until the end of the school year.
Why is the contract so generous? Maybe because it was negotiated by Legal Services board chairman William Harvey, Mr. Bogard's onetime law school teacher, who selected him for this job. Mr. Harvey acted alone, despite the board's decision that a three-member committee negotiate the contract. Some of the terms (like private club dues) were in the contracts of Mr. Bogard's predecessors. Others (like a year's severance pay) were not.
This is the same Mr. Harvey who has led the fight to cut the Legal Services program for the poor--and who has led this board in compiling reimbursable expenses and consulting fees more than twice as high as those of its predecessor. Board members are entitled to reimbursement for limited expenses and to "consulting fees" for time spent on board business; the standard fee is $29 an hour, the equivalent of top-level federal pay, though well below most lawyers' fees. On past boards, many members charged the government no consulting fees at all. This board's leaders, Mr. Harvey and former acting chairman William Olson, have set a different example. Mr. Harvey, because he does not like to fly, drives to Washington from Indianapolis, and for that two-day trip has charged the government $221 per day plus expenses. On one two-day trip he billed $55 for taxis and $194 for postal expenses. Consulting fees for the whole board, for the first 11 months of 1982: $156,201. By comparison, the board's predecessors collected $72,029 for all of 1981.
President Reagan has the OMB investigating the fees that he called "highly unfortunate." The conduct of the board's leadership is worse than "unfortunate." It is disgusting. The day after voting a year's severance pay for Mr. Bogard, who has no experience in legal services, the board voted to extend for only six months the national support centers that have served the program for 14 years. This is exactly the kind of thing Ronald Reagan would tell a damning anecdote about--if the people involved were not appointees of his own government, if they were, for example, merely welfare recipients or people on unemployment comp working the system for all it's worth.
The president now has the chance to appoint new members to the Legal Services board. Does he really want to appoint people like Mr. Harvey? Is his indignation about people who exploit their access to public funds limited to those at the lower end of the income scale?