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With no speaking fees to take home, Fla. delegation clams up

Speaking for pay isn't nearly as popular among Florida's members of Congress as it used to be now that ethics rules prohibit them from pocketing the cash.

That much was evident in financial disclosure forms released Friday that showed Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., made only one paid speech in 1992, as compared with the 13 that earned him $25,000 in 1991.

The National Association of Homebuilders gave Mack $2,000 for a speech last September. He donated the money to charity, as new ethics rules require.

Similarly, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Rocks Beach, reported he did not receive any speaking fees or take any free trips in 1992. Before the House banned speaking fees in 1991, Young was often among the delegation's leaders in honoraria.

The big exception to the trend among area lawmakers last year was U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons of Tampa, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Gibbons got $16,500 in speaking fees in 1992 and reported giving it all to charity.

Ethics reform legislation didn't ban accepting trips from interest groups, though they seem to have lost their allure.

U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis cut back on the number of trips he accepted from interest groups in 1992, though his spokesman Steven Cohen says it had nothing to do with the negative publicity Bilirakis received after taking eight free trips in 1991.

Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, reported that he accepted two trips in 1992.

The National Association of Broadcasters flew Bilirakis and his wife from Tampa to Las Vegas and back in April. And the Florida Telephone Association flew the congressman and his wife from Tampa to Miami and on to Washington on May 30 and June 1.

Bilirakis also accepted a $2,000 speaking fee from the Tobacco Institute and gave it to charity.

Bilirakis sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which writes legislation affecting telecommunications and health care.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., reported that his wife, Adele, accepted six trips from the National Association of Partners in Education, a non-profit group that tries to lower school dropout rates. Graham joined his wife on two of the trips.

Mrs. Graham heads a two-year research project for the group.

Graham also traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico courtesy of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce to encourage trade between the two regions.

Sen. Mack, meanwhile, accepted four trips, including a 10-day tour of Israel paid by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judiasm. Two cancer-fighting groups paid Mack's way to Boston and Dallas.

No 5 percent cut in operations budget

The huge, reform-minded class of House freshmen had a chance to cut their own congressional operations budget last week, and nearly half of them balked.

The opportunity came when Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Rocks Beach proposed a 5 percent across-the-board cut of the $1.78-billion bill that pays for House staff, the Library of Congress and other Capitol operations. Young's proposal would have cut $89-million from the legislative budget.

Under pressure from Democratic leaders, the House defeated Young's amendment, 209-202. Of the House freshmen, 56 voted to cut the legislative budget by 5 percent and 48 voted against the cut.

"If members are serious, it is going to hurt. They are going to have to find ways to get along with less money. But that is what they said they came here to do," Young, the senior Republican on the subcommittee that handles legislative appropriations, said during debate on the bill Thursday evening.

The House Democratic leadership reminded wavering lawmakers that this year's legislative budget is 6.7 percent below last year's. Top lawmakers are pledging to reduce the budget by 25 percent over the next few years. But they argue that an across-the-board reduction hurts both good programs and bad.

Among Florida's freshmen, voting against the cut were Democrats Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek of Miami. They were joined by veteran Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, among others.

Those Florida freshmen voting for the cuts included Reps. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, and Dan Miller, R-Bradenton. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, also voted for the additional reduction.

The House did vote for a series of smaller reductions, including limits on the amount of money given to former speakers of the House. Those cuts approved Thursday amounted to $7.4-million, Young estimated.