"I am not trying to get around honoraria limitations," says Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.). But he has tried precisely that, and the question is whether he succeeded.
The Senate rules allow a maximum of $22,530 a year in speaking fees and honoraria -- 30 percent of a senator's $75,100 salary. The idea is that a senator should not depend too much financially on speaking fees from groups that are interested in legislation. Before the 30 percent limit was imposed in 1984, Mr. Durenberger, who is not rich and has a large family, received far more in honoraria -- $92,750 in 1983 alone. For 1985 Mr. Durenberger reported $21,500 in honoraria, $16,000 of which came from health-related groups; he is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's health subcommittee.
That's all within the rules. But he also received another $10,000 that he didn't disclose. This money was passed along to Piranha Press Inc., a company run by a longtime friend, which has published two books written by the senator. The theory is that it amounts to "promotional expenses" for the books. Payments for books, you see, don't count as honoraria under Senate rules. So a senator can, as Mr. Durenberger did, have 44 of his speeches on health care bound into a book and claim that any income attributable to it, even a speech he made to a health-care trade group, does not constitute an honorarium.
Sen. Durenberger says he checked out this arrangement with the Federal Election Commission, and that it's okay by them. Maybe it will be okay by the Senate too: many senators have been trying to get out from under the honorarium limitations by repealing them. But why should it have been okay by Mr. Durenberger? He skirted close to the edge of the law and allowed himself to be enriched by organizations whose names he did not disclose in the ordinary and expected manner.