House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) accepted a free airplane ride from Beech Aircraft Corp. and will repay the company for the trip, a spokesman from O'Neill's office said yesterday.
On Thursday, the House ethics committee voted to launch a preliminary inquiry into 23 free plane rides from Beech that Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.) had accepted. The committee stressed that the vote "does not amount to any formal charges at this time."
O'Neill accepted one free ride from the aircraft company, according to spokesman Chris Matthews, who said that on July 19 Beech flew O'Neill from Washington National Airport to Hyannis, Mass.
Matthews said that O'Neill will reimburse Beech for the flight at commercial rates. Delta Air Lines said that a one-way flight from Washington to Hyannis would cost $252 for first class and $202 for coach.
Daniel revealed earlier that he had accepted free rides from Beech during the time that Congress was debating the purchase of 24 Beech C12 aircraft for the Pentagon. The revelations caused a furor for Daniel, a senior House Armed Services Committee member and a strong supporter of Beech aircraft.
House conflict-of-interest rules forbid members from accepting a total of $100 or more in gifts annually from any individual or group with any legislative interest before Congress.
Daniel subsequently sent Beech a check for $1,127 to pay for 23 flights to his district between 1983 and 1985.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), another supporter of the Beech C12 aircraft, also said earlier this week that he had accepted a free trip in May from Page Avjet, the Washington distributor of Beech aircraft that provided the rides to Daniel.
In addition, Thurmond's 1984 financial disclosure statement lists seven free trips that he or his family received from Page Avjet last year.
Thurmond said that because Page Avjet did not have a registered lobbyist or political action committee, he did not believe that the free trips violated Senate rules. He said that if the acceptance of the free trips was improper, he would pay for the trips.
Thurmond also said that his support of Beech was in no way connected to the free flights.