When you find 14 members of Congress together in a Virginia coal mine, you know they're not down there for their health. ol, Va., lured 13 Democratic congressmen -- members of committees that oversee mining legislation -- to its southwestern Virginia operations by offering each of them $2,000 in cash.
sk The distinction of this arrangement is its simplicity: the money goes directly to the congressman for personal use, not to some campaign fund. Besides eliminating the middlemen, this system eliminates a central ingredient of the more traditional honorarium setup: The Speech. sk,2 So it was that United Coal collected its special caucus in a luxury 727 jet on Monday for a tour of the mines and a dinner. Rep. Frederick Boucher -- who says that he accepted no money -- helped arrange the trip for United Coal, which is based in his district, with invitations on his congressional letterhead. Mr. Boucher says this kind of trip is useful because House members "cast votes on legislation that affects the coal industry, yet most have no firsthand knowledge of the coal industry or have never talked to coal executives."
sk That's an interesting point, and voters may wish to gauge the relationship between coal cash and votes on matters of interest to the industry. In that spirit we offer some examples of bills to watch, along with a list of the congressmen who accepted the $2,000 invitations (one, Rep. John Bryant, says his payment went to a charity). There is acid-rain legislation that would restrict sulfur emissions from coal-burning plants; future financing for a $400 million coal research program that already has provided a grant to United Coal; and the provisions in the tax reform bill that would repeal capital gains treatment for coal royalties and change the coal depletion allowance. Congressmen who went to the mine with Mr. Boucher were Energy and Commerce Committee members Jim Bates, Wayne Dowdy, Mickey Leland, William Richardson, Richard Shelby, Gerald Sikorski, James Slattery, W. J. Tauzin and Ron Wyden. Also along were Reps. Bill Alexander, Ronald Coleman and Brian Donnelly.