A story yesterday about Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) incorrectly reported when he will face reelection. It is 1994. (Published 7/27/90)
The Senate, solemnly judging one of its own for the first time in more than a decade, voted without dissent last night to denounce Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) for "clearly and unequivocally unethical conduct" in his financial dealings.
Heeding the unanimous recommendation of its ethics committee, the Senate also ordered the 54-year-old lawmaker -- once regarded as one of the rising stars of the Senate and the Republican Party -- to pay more than $120,000 in restitution for improper honoraria and Senate travel reimbursements.
Durenberger is the ninth senator to be denounced, condemned or otherwise censured by the Senate in its more than 200 years of history and the first since Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.) was denounced in 1979 for irregularities in campaign and office expense accounts.
The vote was 96 to 0, with Durenberger and his Minnesota Republican colleague, Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, voting present. When the vote was over, senators came in a steady stream to Durenberger's desk to shake his hand; some of his Republican colleagues, appearing to be near tears, embraced him.
Although he had argued earlier for a less serious reprimand from the committee, Durenberger did not contest the disciplinary action, which is regarded as one of the most severe that the Senate can impose short of expulsion. He later characterized the verdict as a "fair conclusion."
Nearly every senator sat in silence as the three-hour proceedings opened with a sternly worded summary of the case from Select Committee on Ethics Chairman Howell T. Heflin (D-Ala.), who accused Durenberger of "knowingly and willfully transgressing the established norms of Senate behavior." Heflin concluded:
"There is clear and convincing evidence that Senator Durenberger . . . knowingly participated in an arrangement designed to evade statutory limits on honoraria income, that he repeatedly and knowingly accepted gifts prohibited by Senate rule, that he routinely and carelessly ignored the . . . Ethics in Government Act, that he violated the public trust, abused his Senate office and misused Senate funds and that he engaged in a pattern of unethical misconduct which reflects discredit upon the Senate."
While a number of Republican senators sharply criticized the ethics procedure as unduly protracted and weighted toward accusers, committee Vice Chairman Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) agreed with Heflin that the evidence in the case was "unassailable, irrefutable."
Sitting impassively through a series of speeches denouncing his financial misconduct but lauding many aspects of his 12-year legislative record, Durenberger rose after the vote to express his regret and pledged to make amends.
"To my colleagues here, who know me and work with me, I would just say how deeply sorry I am for the painful -- and necessary -- experience we've just been through and for the extra burden my misconduct has placed on each of you," he said grimly.
"And if there is a smudge on the Seal of the United States Senate, or on the Star of the North, as we like to call our state, I will work my hardest to polish both back to brightness," he said.
The resolution approved by the Senate accused Durenberger of "reprehensible" conduct that "brought the Senate into dishonor and disrepute" by improperly enriching himself through a book publishing deal, a condominium swap and acceptance of free limousine service from special interest groups.
It ordered him to pay $93,730 to any charity with which he has no affiliation to cover fees that he received in 1985 and 1986 for book promotion speeches in what the ethics committee called an attempt to evade Senate limits on honoraria from speeches to outside groups. It also said he must return $29,500 plus interest to the Senate for travel reimbursements he received for staying at a Minneapolis condominium in which he owned an interest. Durenberger has pledged to make the payments.
The resolution also refers the case to the Republican Party Conference for consideration of further action, although conference Chairman John H. Chafee (R.I.) has already said it is unlikely to consider stripping Durenberger of his seniority or committee assignments.
Official Senate documents describe denouncement as a form of censure. But Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a member of the ethics committee, said the panel rejected "censure" because of mitigating circumstances and because Durenberger demonstrated "no venal intent." Heflin responded that the distinction is "in the eye of the beholder" and said denouncement is officially regarded as "within the parameters" of censure.
Durenberger, who does not face reelection until 1992, is among seven senators to face allegations before the ethics committee this year. The committee is considering charges against Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), who are accused of intervening improperly with regulators on behalf of savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr. It also is considering allegations that Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) improperly intervened with federal agencies on behalf of relatives and political supporters.
According to Senate records, the Senate previously had censured eight senators and expelled 15. Among those censured since World War II were Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), who was condemned in 1954 for abuse of and noncooperation with a Senate subcommittee during an investigation of his conduct; Thomas J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who was censured for using campaign funds for personal expenses and double-billing the government for travel expenses; and Talmadge.
Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) resigned from the Senate before it acted on an ethics committee recommendation that he be expelled for "ethically repugnant" conduct in the Abscam bribery scandal.
In its disciplinary resolution, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics concluded that Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) "brought the Senate into dishonor and disrepute" when he violated Senate ethics rules and federal financial disclosure laws. The origins of those violations and the subsequent charges against Durenberger include:
The Book Deal Piranha Press, a Minnesota company, published two books written by Durenberger -- one on defense policy, "Neither Madmen Nor Messiahs," and one on health policy, entitled "Prescription for Change." In 1985-86, Piranha paid Durenberger $100,000 in exchange for speeches Durenberger gave to promote the book. A number of interest groups that invited Durenberger to speak during those years were referred to Piranha Press and asked to pay fees directly to it. The committee determined that Durenberger:
Evaded Senate honoraria limits in accepting the $100,000 sti- pend from Piranha Press Inc.
Violated financial disclosure requirements by failing to report
the receipt of travel expenses in connection with the book-pro- motion appearances.
Improperly converted campaign funds to personal use when he
signed over to Piranha Press a $5,000 contribution given to his
campaign from the Pathology Practice Association Federal Po- litical Action Committee.
The Condominium Durenberger received Senate reimbursement for rent paid on a Minneapolis condominium from August 1983 to November 1989. Durenberger, in an effort to seek greater tax advantages, sold the condo to a business partnership formed with friend and political backer Roger Scherer. Durenberger agreed to form the partnership in mid-1983, but it was not recorded with county officials until a year later. Documents were backdated to justify earlier reimbursements. Also in 1983, Durenberger switched his legal residence from Minneapolis to his hometown of Avon, Minn., which he said would make him eligible for reimbursement when staying in Minneapolis. In 1987, Paul Overgaard, a political associate of Durenberger, bought the condo, and documents pertaining to the sale were filed belatedly. The committee determined that Durenberger:
Accepted Senate reimbursement for rent paid on the
condominium in which he held an interest.
Had improper communications with the blind trust that
held his interest in the condominium.
The Limousine During 1985 and 1986, Durenberger accepted free limousine transportation to and from Concord, Mass., for marriage counseling sessions with Armand Nicklety, from groups possessing interest in legislation. The committee determined that Durenberger:
Violated Senate gift limits by accepting about $5,000
worth of free limousine service during those trips.
SOURCES: The Washington Post; Congressional Quarterly