Common Cause said yesterday that the failure of the House ethics committee to recommend that Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.) be punished for accepting free airplane rides was "incorrect and could establish a very dangerous precedent."
Last month, the ethics committee found that Daniel had violated House rules by accepting at least 68, and possibly as many as 200, free flights from a defense contractor.
But the committee said that "through subsequent reinbursement Daniel brought himself into compliance" with the House rules and it voted simultaneously against imposing any sanctions against Daniel.
In a letter to members of the ethics committee, Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer said that the group was concerned that the "initial violation" concept will set a precedent, allowing House rule violations to be erased if a member of Congress makes restitution after being caught.
"If this unique theory of 'initial violation' . . . is allowed to stand, it will seriously undermine compliance" with the House ethics rules, said Wertheimer. "Citizens who violate income tax laws or criminal statutes or civil laws are not" allowed such treatment, he said.
Noting that the House ethics committee has cases pending involving Reps. Fernand J. St. Germain (D-R.I.), William H. Boner (D-Tenn.) and James Weaver (D-Tenn.) and James Weaver (D-Ore.), Wertheimer said: "The question of future impact . . . is not an academic one."
The group urged the committee to drop the concept of "initial violation" and "make it clear . . . that a representative who does not comply with House rules will be found in violation of these rules."
Daniel, 71, a senior member of the House Armed Services Comittee, acknowledged that he had accepted free airplane trips from Beech Aircraft Corp. while urging the Pentagon to buy Beech airplanes. He said he did not realize such free flights violated ethics rules.