Who said members of Congress are not willing to step up and take the heat in order to reform the campaign contribution mess?

Last month, with no public fanfare, the House changed its rules to prohibit members from "knowingly" giving campaign contributions to colleagues on the House floor. Not being satisfied with that, they even made the new prohibition applicable to distributing campaign checks in the speaker's lobby, adjacent to the House floor and even to the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms, where members relax before going out to vote.

The House was not acting in a vacuum.

In mid-June 1995, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. political action committee (PAC) wrote $500 campaign contributions to 59 House Republican and Democratic members, Federal Election Commission records show. Some of the checks were written to members that House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested Brown & Williamson support, according to Barry Jackson, his chief of staff. Boehner then was given the checks to deliver "so he could get credit," Jackson said.

Last year it was publicly disclosed that Boehner in the last week of June 1995 walked around the House floor delivering six or more of the Brown & Williamson PAC checks.

As Jackson put it, "We were trying to help freshmen who needed to get their June 30th numbers up, their cash-on-hand numbers up. . . . All leadership does this." When Boehner's activity was disclosed, Democrats first acted shocked and later had to admit that they too had over the years made and received similar deliveries.

Boehner carried the checks to the House floor because that is where he knew he could find the needy incumbents, according to Jackson. "It's a common practice. He knew it was neither illegal {n}or against the rules of the House," Jackson added.

Before he went out on the floor, Boehner was careful to check that there was no tobacco-related legislation being debated at the time, Jackson said. However, on June 27, 1995, in the same week Boehner was giving out the checks on the House floor, the House Appropriations Committee met in its room in the Rayburn House Office Building and voted down (17 to 30) an amendment that would have ended the government's price support program for tobacco. Seven Appropriations Committee members each had received a $500 check from Brown & Williamson's PAC, including one for the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). How their checks were delivered is not clear.

Jackson said yesterday that Boehner was aware of the Appropriations Committee vote on tobacco but that "there was no connection between the checks and the committee."

This year, Boehner was among House members who supported the rule banning floor distribution of campaign checks. The Ohio Republican was surprised at the reaction last year to his actions because "it hadn't crossed his mind it was wrong," Jackson said. Of course, there are limits on how far any such reform can be taken. The new House rules, however, do not prevent members of Congress from passing checks to colleagues in the dining room or committee hearing rooms or the gym or anywhere else in the three House office buildings.

Jackson said that is because lawmakers are concerned that constituents would no longer be able to walk up to members and hand them a check or mail them to congressional offices, as sometimes happens now. The new rule setting boundaries on where checks can be delivered was restricted to the floor and its surrounding spaces where only members, officers of the House and staff members with floor privileges can go. "It's controllable," Jackson said, "and constituents can't wander there."

Federal law, which once prohibited members from to directly or indirectly receiving campaign contributions in buildings where they discharge their official duties, has since been changed. Under current law, members and their staffs cannot solicit campaign funds from their congressional offices nor can they receive in their offices money they solicited from elsewhere. They can, however, by law, still receive checks in their offices as long as they transfer the funds within seven days to their campaign committees.

Jackson said Boehner still accepts checks from PACs and other donors for delivery to other members but he only delivers them personally off Capitol Hill, usually in the member's district. Most checks are passed on to Boehner's campaign committee, which forwards them to the recipient member's campaign committee.

Stanley Brand, a Washington attorney and former general counsel to the House under Democratic House speakers, called the ban on delivering campaign contributions on the floor "more symbolism like the Contract {With} America.' A ploy with no significant meaning."