WASHINGTON -- Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex., continued to press his complaint against Rep. Jim Leach's efforts on behalf of a small Iowa college, arguing that the House Ethics Committee should consider whether such activities should be barred.
Last week, the panel told the banking committee chairman that Rep. Leach's activities were well within the bounds of permissible behavior.
Waverly-based Wartburg College is raising money for an endowed teaching position named after Rep. Leach, the banking committee's ranking Republican.
Although Rep. Leach did not solicit funds for the college, the ethics committee said he would have been free to do so. Part of the funding came from the banking and financial services industry, and Rep. Gonzalez suggested in his original letter to the ethics panel that the industry's participation created a potential conflict of interest.
"I appreciate your statements on House rules, but a response that a practice is allowable under the rules begs the question of whether the practice should be allowable under the rules," Rep. Gonzalez said.
Rep. Gonzalez compared Rep. Leach's situation to that of a House member who directs that payments be made to a local charity in lieu of an honorarium for a speech. Such payments, he said, must be reported under House rules and fund-raising activities such as the Wartburg teaching chair also should be subject to disclosure, he argued.
"Alternatively, the rules of the House should be amended to prohibit what is clearly a circumvention of the intent of disclosure and reporting laws," he added.
"The same principle is involved in all these situations - that contributions are being made because of a desired connection between a lobbyist and a member," he said.
In a postscript to the letter, Rep. Gonzalez added a particularly sharp criticism that appeared to be aimed directly at Rep. Leach.
"Winston Churchill's observation is most appropriate: 'Ministers have come under obligation to great interests, and it can be presumed or alleged that their votes or speeches have been corrupt.'"
The relationship between Rep. Gonzalez and Rep. Leach has been increasingly strained since the Iowa Republican began pressing for an investigation into President Clinton's involvement with a failed Arkansas thrift and with Whitewater Development Corp.
Rep. Gonzalez initially resisted calls for a congressional investigation, then told House Speaker-Thomas S. Foley that an inquiry should be held to demonstrate the falseness of Republican charges.
Issues Deemed lnappropriate
Most recently, he wrote to the House Democratic leader to say that a bipartisan agreement to have the House Banking Committee investigate three separate issues related to Whitewater was flawed.
Two of the issues involved the death of White House aide Vincent Foster, and Rep. Gonzalez said the banking committee was ill-suited to the job of a coroner.
The other dealt with contacts between the White House and the Resolution Trust Corp., and Rep. Gonzalez warned the Speaker that it would be impossible to limit that part of the inquiry.
Rep. Leach said last week that he was trying to remain "bemused" by the situation, rather than angry. He noted that Rep. Foley had called him personally to offer his assurance that the Wartburg activities were legitimate.
Although the House Democratic and Republican leadership have agreed to hold the hearings, a date has not been set. In the Senate, the protracted debate over Whitewater hearings has held up the nomination of Ricki Tigert to be chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.