Public interest groups frequently criticize members of Congress for accepting plane tickets, hotel accommodations and large speaking fees from lobbies and corporations that have a stake in legislation.
But the less-scrutinized members of congressional staffs also receive all-expenses-paid winter trips to warm places and $1,000 honorariums for making speeches to the same lobbies, according to staff financial disclosure statements filed last month.
Members of the House may accept no more than 30 percent of their congressional salaries in outside income; for senators, the limit is 40 percent. Congressional aides, however, may accept an unlimited amount in total honorariums and up to $2,000 for any one speech, according to John Davison, a spokesman for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
And while all members of congress must file detailed financial disclosure statements listing their earnings, gifts and properties, only staff who earn at least $61,296 -- the GS-16 level -- must file, he said.
A survey of the disclosure statements of high-ranking committee staff members shows that the honorariums and trips are concentrated among staffers who serve on the money committees: Appropriations and Budget in both houses, Ways and Means in the House, and the Finance Committee and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in the Senate.
Leading the pack is M. Danny Wall, staff director for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Wall took 30 domestic trips in 1985, most of them paid for by banking and other financial institutions, he reported on his financial disclosure statement. The committee chairman, Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), took only four domestic trips.
Wall said the trips are valuable and perfectly legitimate fact-finding missions.
"I don't play golf. I don't play tennis. I don't drink. I go to the meetings and come back," Wall said. "I feel they are important commitments and important opportunities."
In fact, Wall added, he feels particularly pressured to review the perspectives of various banking groups because his counterparts in the House are forbidden by their committee's own rules from doing so.
Staffers on the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee do not travel or accept speaking fees "as a longstanding policy," spokesman Jack Lewis said. "Everyone here is adequately compensated and they don't need to accept anything from private institutions."
Committee Chairman Fernand J. St Germain (D-R.I.) "generally feels only the members should speak on policy," Lewis said. But other congressional committee chairmen clearly do not agree.
William M. Diefenderfer, chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee, for example, accepted $14,250 in speaking fees last year from organizations ranging from the Grocery Manufacturers Association to the Real Estate Tax Institute. Diefenderfer also was flown to six cities by the sponsoring groups.
"I don't know what's in their hearts, in terms of whether they think it influences you," he said. But "the way our tax bill turned out, most of the people, if they could get away with shooting me without going to jail, they would."
Other traveling staffers include Richard N. Brandon of the Senate Budget Committee, who was flown to New York and Palo Alto, Calif., to discuss budget issues with the New York Stock Exchange and the Hoover Institution; Joseph K. Dowley and M. Kenneth Bowler of the House Ways and Means Committee, who each took four privately financed trips; Bruce F. Davie, also of Ways and Means, who participated in seven seminars and speaking engagements, primarily for tax-interested groups; Paul Nelson of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, whose four trips included three all-expenses-paid days in Puerto Rico, and Susan G. McGuire of the House Education and Labor Committee, who spent 16 days in China at the expense of the Chinese government. McGuire's statement said the trip was approved by the U.S. Information Agency.
A few personal staffers also went on privately financed trips. They include Arlene M. Wills, an aide to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who spent six days in Taipei, Taiwan, courtesy of the ROC-USA Economic Council, and 25 days in Ecuador, a trip paid for by Belco Petroleum. Michael Lewan, an aide to Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), went to Hungary twice at the expense of two Hungarian special interest groups.
But a congressional employe need not be in a policy-making position to pull in traveling and speaking fees. The Rev. Richard C. Halverson, the Senate chaplain, made $6,546 last year from 21 speaking engagements to various religious groups, his financial disclosure form shows.
Halverson took 15 trips, one of them paid for by the National Association of Home Builders. He also reported a 1981 interest-free loan for $57,730, to be paid off "at the convenience of Halverson" to the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Bethesda, where Halverson preached before coming to the Senate five years ago.
"I don't think the fact that I'm here in the Senate had anything to do with" the speaking fees, he said. "In fact, I've been greatly limited since I've been in the Senate."