Former Congressman Otto Passman Dies At 88
Aug. 13, 1988
MONROE, La. (AP) _ Otto E. Passman, whose 30 years in Congress ended in scandal involving a Korean businessman and allegations of favoritism toward associates, died Saturday at age 88.
He died at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe, according to the Mulhearn Funeral Home. Garland Shell, a family friend, said death was due to a heart attack.
Passman, a grade-school dropout who rose from poverty to become a successful businessman, was first elected to Congress from a largely rural district in northeastern Louisiana in 1946.
The conservative Democrat was the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations from 1954 to 1976, the year he was defeated in a bid for a 16th term. It was in that post that he developed a reputation as an outspoken opponent of foreign aid.
''For many years, he was the most popular public official in this part of Louisiana,'' said former Gov. John J. McKeithen. ''He was a man of great honor, of great integrity and extreme loyalty.''
Passman survived 15 elections without serious opposition. But in 1976, he lost to fellow Democrat Jerry Huckaby by more than 8,000 votes in the state's open primary.
During that campaign, Passman was accused of browbeating foreign governments into making grain deals that benefited his associates.
He denied allegations that he used his office to pressure foreign governments to ship their rice on vessels owned by St. John Maritime Co. of California.
He was also accused of favoring the Connell Rice and Sugar Co. of Westfield, N.J., which got a reported $680 million in contracts under the Food For Peace Program in the 1970s.
Passman maintained that he was doing his duty by finding foreign markets for American farm produce, and then seeing that American companies profited from his efforts.
But a New York Times report said Passman was the largest beneficiary of cash payments from Korean businessman Tongsun Park, who was accused of buying influence in Congress. The Times said Passman got $190,000 from Park.
After leaving office, Passman was indicted on a variety of federal charges in 1978 but was acquitted.
Passman was born June 27, 1900, near Franklinton, a child of tenant farmers. He dropped out of school at 14, eventually becoming a prosperous businessman as head of the Passman Wholesale Equipment Co., a commercial refrigeration firm, and Passman Investment Co.
After service in the Navy in World War II, Passman won his first term in Congress.
His battles over foreign aid and other issues made headlines, but he denied charges that he was trying to eliminate all foreign aid.
''They have accused me of trying to wipe out the whole program,'' he once said. ''That's not true. I have been trying to contain it.'' But in the next breath, he said he'd rather have no foreign aid at all than have the program that existed.
In 1960, he returned from the Democratic convention describing himself as ''politically sick, disgusted,'' and announced he wouldn't vote for John F. Kennedy. In 1966, he vigorously attacked President Johnson for allegedly leading the nation into socialism.
In a 1984 interview, Passman said he hadn't gotten used to retirement.
''I hate it,'' he said. ''I just don't like the idea of not doing anything.''
He is survived by his wife, Martha Passman. Funeral services were set for Monday in Monroe.