Top leaders of the House of Representatives last year retained more than $28,000 apiece in honorariums for their personal use, according to financial disclosure reports made public Tuesday by the House clerk.
The honorariums are fees paid to members of Congress by lobbying groups for making speeches and writing articles.
The financial disclosure reports are drawing more attention this year than usual because of the House ethics committee's investigation of Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas. The panel opened public hearings Tuesday on Wright.
A Common Cause study showed the members who kept the most honorariums were Wright, $30,000; Minority Leader Bob Michel, R-Ill., $29,600; Majority Leader Tom Foley, D-Wash., $28,750, and Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the House minority whip, $26,800.
Common Cause said current House members received $5,880,927 in honorariums last year, kept $4,778,852 and gave the rest to charity.
Fred Wertheimer, Common Cause president, called honorariums "a discredited system" and urged their abolition.
Members are allowed to keep 30 percent of their 1988 base salary, $89,500. In the reports, members also disclose the number of trips they made at the expense of lobbying groups, their assets and liabilities.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, received 34 honorariums from savings and loan, banking, investment and other organizations. Nearly all the fees came from speeches LaFalce delivered.
LaFalce, chairman of the Small Business Committee and a senior member of the House Banking Committee, grossed $37,982 in honorariums.
House rules permitted members to retain $26,850, and LaFalce would be required to donate anything over that amount to charity.
A Common Cause analysis of LaFalce's report showed he retained $24,482.
Groups also reimbursed him for 12 trips he took in connection with speaking engagements in 1988. The locales ranged from Albany, N.Y. and Orlando, Fla., to Berlin, West Germany.
Sponsoring groups for these trips included the National Council of Savings Institutions, the New Jersey Council of Savings Institutions and National Small Business United.
LaFalce received speaking fees of $2,000 per appearance from such organizations as the New York League of Savings Institutions, the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York and the American Bankers Association's Small Business Conference.
He wrote two articles. The New York Times paid him $150 for one, and Gannett News Service paid $125 for the other.
The unearned income, assets and liabilities are expressed in ranges, and not dollar specifics.
For example, LaFalce's unearned income (from investments) in 1988 ranged from $17,000 to $44,000. His holdings were between $235,000 to $565,000. The only liability LaFalce listed was a loan on his home at 35 Danbury Lane, Town of Tonawanda. He did not list the home as an asset, and the rules do not require the listing of a member's personal residence.
Rep. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, listed assets in a range from $445,000 to $1,140,000. But Nowak reported outstanding loans ranging from $170,000 to $485,000 on real estate he owns in Buffalo, Washington and Florida.
Nowak was paid $14,500 in honorariums, and listed unearned income in the $38,500-$121,500 range. Nowak was reimbursed for two trips. One, to Fort Worth, Texas, was paid for by LTV Aerospace. The other, to Chicago, was paid for by the Lake Michigan Federation.
Nowak is chairman of the House Public Works water resources subcommittee and a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology.
Among the groups that paid Nowak fees ranging from $500 to $2,000 were LTV, General Dynamics, the International Association of Ports and Harbors, the American Trucking Association and the Association of Oil Pipelines.
The shortest report filed by a member of the Western New York delegation in the House was by Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Williamsville, who was not a member last year.
Paxon listed only the $49,005 salary he received last year as a member of the Assembly. He said he had no investment income, no honorariums, no assets and no liabilities.
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, R-Fairport, reported to the House clerk that she received no honorariums or any other non-congressional income last year.
An aide said Rep. Slaughter has not announced a policy against accepting such fees from lobbyists. Her congressional district consists of Genesee County and part of Livingston County.
She reported, however, she earned up to $5,000 from stock dividends and owned stock valued at $25,000 to $105,000.
In addition, she listed in her financial disclosure statement that she accepted reimbursements for four trips she took last year. The sponsoring organizations and the locations were Kentucky for the American Nurses Association and for Business and Professional Women, Toronto for the American Bar Association and New York City for the New York Stock Exchange.
Rep. Amory Houghton Jr., R-Corning, accepted $7,450 in honorariums and retained $3,400. He gave the rest to charity. Houghton's congressional district consists of Chautauqua and Allegany counties, plus most of Cattaraugus counties.