Wright Episode Typical of Congressional Record Inserts
WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Speaker Jim Wright’s use of the Congressional Record to plug a home video product made by his wife’s employer follows a long Capitol Hill tradition: Just about anything can be printed, and is, at taxpayers’ expense.
For more than 100 years the Congressional Record has provided an uncritical compilation of remarks said - and unsaid - by members of Congress.
It is printed five days a week, every week, and runs 200 or so pages on average. It costs $18 million a year, and is produced by more than 500 government printers working through the night.
″It’s like producing the Sunday New York Times, five times a week,″ said Duane Nystrom, editor for the Congressional Publications Office. ″It is not a small project.″
The embattled speaker, already fighting allegations he violated House ethics rules, was the object of fresh reports Monday in The Wall Street Journal about remarks he had included in the Congressional Record of Dec. 9, 1985.
His 350-word statement amounted to an effusive endorsement of the Pacific Institute’s series of video motivational programs designed to enhance family togetherness and conversation.
″Marvelously useful,″ Wright gushed. And available ″at a nominal price within the range of most American families.″
Wright didn’t mention the $36,000 a year annual salary that the company was paying his wife, Betty. Her job with another company is the basis for some of the ethics charges now facing the speaker.
The Seattle-based Pacific Institute said it didn’t ask for Wright’s remarks. But it reprinted them later in promoting sales of the tapes at $34.95 each or $400 for a full set of 21.
The revelation can’t help Wright in the fight for his political future, but no one is suggesting this is the first the time Congressional Record provided an official-looking plug.
Nor is it the first embarrassment involving the Record.
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., can vouch for that. In 1986, Helms inserted into the Record a legal brief filed by a group opposing ″dial-a-porn″ telephone services, Citizens for Decency Through Law.
That issue of the Congressional Record became a bestseller. Included in the brief, and printed in the record, was the full, X-rated text of one of the tapes. ″Hi, I’m Nellie from High Society,″ it began.
Both episodes were possible because of the way the Record is edited. It isn’t.
Or at least, it isn’t edited for content. Copy is edited for errors and grammar, but little else, said Nystrom.
″There is virtually no censorship of comments put on the record,″ he said. ″The only thing that would be excised from the record would be obscenities.″
Content, he said, is governed by the rules of the House and Senate. The Record prints what is said on the floor of the House or Senate, and members are free to submit additional statements. Remarks that violate the rules, such as attacks on another member, would be edited out.
In an effort to make the Record more faithfully reflect what was said, Congress a few years ago decided to have remarks that were edited or added later appear in a different typeface.
But inserts can be as lengthy as a member of Congress wants. Much of the Pentagon Papers, for example, was included.
The Record is printed through the night and available the next morning, and it is also available electronically by computer. It has a press run of 24,000 copies, and Nystrom figures it costs about $500 per page to print.
Congressional rules generally bar members from receiving benefits as a result of improperly exerting their position, and guidelines caution lawmakers against becoming so ″affiliated with a particular enterprise″ that it creates an appearance of impropriety.
Wright declined to answer questions Monday about his video plug. But Nystrom says he doubts Wright’s use of the Record was unique.
″If there was something wrong with that, every member of Congress would be guilty of doing that,″ he said. ″Everyone ... uses the Record to promote or call attention to some activity within their district.
″I would see it as a matter of degrees,″ he said.