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Members of Congress Forgo Honoraria from Jewish Groups

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Jewish groups awarded comparatively few honoraria to members of Congress last year, a Jewish Telegraphic Agency analysis of congressional financial disclosure statements reveals.

The 95 senators who filed the statements as of May 24 received $20,000 in speaking fees from Jewish groups. By contrast, they accepted $2.6 million in honoraria from interest groups, the watchdog group Common Cause tallied.

JTA also examined 70 of the 379 financial disclosure statements released May 22 by the House.

Those examined included the 29 Jewish representatives in the second session of the 100th Congress and a few dozen other highly visible supporters of Israel. The 70 received a total of $51,000 in Jewish honoraria.

Close scrutiny of honoraria comes as House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) faces a possible reprimand from the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in part for allegedly trying to skirt the House ceiling on speaking income.

Wright is alleged to have exceeded the congressional limit on speaking fees, $34,500 or 30 percent of his $115,000 salary, by selling to interest groups bulk quantities of a book he authored in lieu of accepting honoraria.

Honoraria awarded by Jewish groups had no comparable adverse effects.

CITE FISCAL RESTRAINT

Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and B’nai B’rith International cite fiscal restraint and the lure of their forum as reasons for not offering honoraria, which by congressional rules is permitted at up to $2,000 per speech.

Ira Silverman, executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, provided another reason. “We don’t believe that buying congressional votes is the most effective way to achieve our aims,” he said.

The Jewish groups that awarded honoraria tended to be more concerned with using such engagements to raise money of their own than with buying influence.

For example, most of the $7,000 awarded by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith went for members of Congress to appear at fund-raising events, said ADL Washington Representative Jess Hordes.

More than a dozen Jewish federations, in the fund-raising business, awarded honoraria to members of Congress last year.

By contrast, just two of the more tightly budgeted Jewish community relations councils did so, one of which was the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the umbrella policy-planning group for 110 local JCRCs.

Lawrence Rubin, NJCRAC’s associate executive vice chairman, said Friday that NJCRAC had apparently departed from practice in awarding $2,000 to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) for a speech in Los Angeles, but could not explain why.

The groups that do not award honoraria reimburse members of Congress for travel expenses and lodging.

AIPAC, for example, reimbursed now Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) on three occasions — more than it did any other senator — including twice after Election Day.

Rather than accepting honoraria from Jewish groups, many lawmakers prefer to acquire lists of speech attendees to better “cast your bread upon the waters,” explained one Jewish lobbyist.

The activist said he has arranged for members of Congress to speak for free with a “quid pro quo of: I’ll give them the list of whoever is in the room.”

At least nine lawmakers accepted trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish groups in 1988, while one of the 165 lawmakers, Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), went to the Soviet Union.

Wyden’s trip was financed by the Jewish Federation of Portland.

The ADL led the way to Israel with trips for Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), and Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Norman Sisisky (D-Va.). The American Jewish Congress sent Sen. Kent Conrad (R-N.D.) and his wife Lucy there for a week.

MAJORITY WHIP TO RESIGN

The United Jewish Federation of MetroWest, N.J., flew Rep. Jim Courter (R-N.J.) to the Jewish state, while Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) was sent there by American Friends of Tel Aviv University.

Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.) and Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), the House Majority Whip who Friday announced that he will resign June 15 in the wake of a likely House ethics committee investigation, were guests of a Raoul Wallenberg conference sponsored by Hebrew University and Project Interchange.

Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) and his wife Harriet’s December trip to Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia was co-sponsored by the National Jewish Coalition, the Jewish Republican group in Washington; the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations; and the American Egyptian Cooperation Foundation.

Actually, the Arab groups paid for most of the trip — including the round-trip transatlantic flight — with the NJC paying the Egypt-to-Israel leg. Ben Waldman, the NJC’s executive director, said an NJC board member tipped the group off to Pressler’s other plans.

Trips to Israel “are not a boondoggle” and are an effective way to strengthen a lawmaker’s support for Israel, Silverman said. The AJCommittee, however, has not sponsored any such trips in at least three years.

The top recipient of honoraria from Jewish groups in 1988 was Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), at $17,000. The top Senate recipient was Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who received $6,000.

FIRST PLACE BY LARGE MARGIN

Solarz outdistanced by $7,000 the second largest recipients, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor, and Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), born in a displaced persons camp after the Holocaust.

Jeremy Rabinowitz, Solarz’s administrative assistant, said his boss is not independently wealthy like some other lawmakers. Solarz never asks for honoraria and gives lots of speeches for free, he added.

Another bit of information listed on the financial disclosure statements is any subsequent donation of their honoraria.

Under House rules, lawmakers not in leadership posts are allowed to keep up to $26,850. For example, Solarz received $31,975 and donated $5,125.

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