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2018 Worth Bingham Prize winners David McSwane, left, and Andrew Chavez, right, with Clara Bingham Lisa Abitbol

Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism

All Is Not Passing Of Laws


Six-part series

In this third of six articles, Worth Bingham of The Courier-Journal and Times Washington Bureau discloses the private business that runs on Congressional  property.

Part 1: Our Costly Congress

Part 2: Expense Facts Compared To Iceberg — Most Hidden

Part 4: Free-Mail Privilege Proves A Boon To Incumbents

Part 5: New Building May Top Pentagon Cost

Part 6: Financial Reports Hide Actual Spending

Washington, July 23.— One reason it costs so much to run Congress is that many Capitol Hill expenses have little or nothing to do with getting laws passed.

“A congressman has so much going for him these days,” a former House employee said recently, “the TV studio, the franking privilege, his telephone allowance, the folding room— it makes it very difficult to run against an incumbent.”

“Take a congressman’s office equipment,” he continued. “He gets $2,500 worth of electric typewriters, robotypers, addressing machines, and mimeograph machines. He can buy paper with his $1,800 stationery allowance, have his staff crank out literature that stops just short of a direct appeal for votes, and send it out under the frank for nothing.

“Compare this to a corporation executive who might be running against this same congressman. He is not supposed to use his office equipment or staff to turn out campaign literature— it’s a violation of the Corrupt Practices Act. And, of course, he must pay for any mail he sends out.”

Not all campaign literature is prepared in Congressional offices. Deep in the bowels of the Old House Office Building there are two printing shops run as private businesses by Truman Ward and Thomas Lankford. Ward has the title of “majority clerk,” Lankford is “minority clerk.” The titles appear to be meaningless. Many members ignore them, have their printing done in the shop they think does the best work.

Although Ward and Lankford are admittedly engaged in private business enterprises, they enjoy certain advantages not available to the average businessman. Their titles allow them to be carried on the payroll of the House sergeant at arms at annual salaries of $6,781. Their space, light, and heat are free. Although much of their work has nothing to do with the official business of the House, they are allowed to buy their supplies from the House stationery room at cost.

Because of this treatment, Ward and Lankford often are able to charge 20 percent less than other commercial printing shops in Washington.

‘A Very Good Income’

Both men refused to give out any information on the volume of work they handle or about their profits, and neither has to make such accountings to the House.

“It averages out as a very good income though,” Ward said. Lankford would not comment at all, but at one time he flew hi own private airplane.

Senators can get most of their printing done free of charge by the Senate Service Department, an organization run in top­ secret manner under Senate Sergeant at Arms Joseph C. Duke. The service department combines the functions of Ward and Lankford and the House folding room. It is located behind unmarked doors on the first floor of the New Senate Office Building. Any other information is extremely hard to come by.

The service department is not listed in the legislative budget, so there is no way of finding out what it costs to run, or about the quantity or quality of work handled.

The man in charge is John T. “Buck” Chambers, who is carried on the Senate payroll at $12,692 a year. In answer to a query about how many employees he has under him, Chambers said: “All that information has to come from the sergeant at arms.” A call to Duke’s office elicited only this from an aide: “Sorry, but Mr. Duke doesn’t give out any information about the service department.”

Senator’s Query Refused

Normally, in situations like these, a newsman can get a friendly senator to ask for information and pass it on to him. In this case the stratagem failed. No one connected with the service department would tell a member of Senator John Sherman Cooper’s staff any more than they had told The Courier-Journal.

Ward, who is in a position to know because he does some work for senators and thus is in direct competition with Chambers’ operation, said that the service department prints frankable material (mail which does not directly appeal for votes) free of charge for senators if they provide the paper. The material then is folded, inserted in franked envelopes, and mailed out free, Ward said.

House members get their frankable material processed and dispatched free of charge by the House folding room. The bill for this will run $240,000 for fiscal 1963.

Publications Wrapped, Mailed

The folding room provides another valuable free service for congressmen— wrapping and sending to constituents Government publications. Every year the folding room gets 174,800 copies of the “Yearbook of Agriculture,” a thick volume which normally sells for $2.25, but can be obtained free from a member of Congress if he has not already used up his annual allotment of 400.

One official at the Department of Agriculture estimated his agency spends more than $750,000 a year for literature congressmen can send out for nothing.

If agriculture is not a voter’s preference, he might like an 80-page magazine called “The Capitol, A Pictorial Story of The Capitol in General and The House of Representatives in Particular.” He would have a good chance of getting one, too, because each congressman gets 1,000 a year for distribution.

Powers Contrasted 

Leafing through the magazine, the reader is reminded that “the President recommends, but the Congress decides … indeed, the Congress of the United States, with its world-girdling powers of decision, is the ultimate reservoir of mankind’s hope for a free life.”

”The Capitol” is ecstatic about the new east front extension of the Capitol. (“Every pillar, every stone, like a holy of holies, was carefully removed, identified, and gently laid aside to serve as future mementos”.) However, it fudges a little by quoting the cost of the project as $10,100,000. When it was finished in time for the inauguration last year, the bill for the east front extension came to $11,825,000.

By far the most popular Government publication is a booklet called “Infant Care.” Since the first printing in 1914, more than 45,000,000 copies have been distributed, half of them by Congress, making it the most widely read book in the English language next to the Bible. During the past year, congressmen gave 1,400,000 free copies of the booklet, which may be obtained for 15 cents from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The printing bill came to $86,664.

Other Titles Available 

In addition, House members can fill requests for free copies of “Prayer Room In The U.S. Capitol” (1,000 copies for each congressman); “Facts on Communism” (75 copies), “Guide to Subversive Activities” (80 copies), and several others. Senators may choose from the same list, but their allotments are usually more generous.

Other useful tools for incumbent legislators are the House and Senate television studios. The House studio, in the Old House Office Building, features a “set” made to look like a congressman’s office — complete with desk, books, and a window-view of the Capitol dome. Few constituents realize that they are not looking at the dome at all, but at a photograph. 

The studios charge less than $20 to make a 5-minute television film which costs $400 on the “outside.” Yet over the past eight years the House recording studio has managed to build up a surplus of $150,000 in its revolving fund in the Treasury.

Salaries Aren’t Counted

How is it done? Simple. The taxpayers put up $100,000 in annual salaries and this sum is not counted as part of the cost of running the studio. The $80,000 received annually in recording fees more than covers the other costs of its operation.

For years the General Accounting Office, the agency which polices the spending of federal agencies, has been quietly suggesting that rates be raised to a realistic figure so that the studio can be placed on a pay-as-you-go basis, but the three-man House Recording Committee won’t go along.

The reason? The Senate television studio refuses to raise its rates and the House committee believes that “we ought not to put a burden on the members of the House which will exceed that which is being borne by the senators,” according to its chairman, Representative J. Vaughn Gary (D., Va.)

Copyright, 1962, by The Courier-Journal