WASHINGTON -- Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who has repeatedly denied that he wrote any bad checks at the House bank, yesterday revealed that he wrote four overdrafts during his 11 years in Congress.
The congressman, who has been critical of his colleagues for abusing the now-closed bank, said he learned about his own overdrafts -- written in 1991 and 1986 -- on Friday, following a call from the House ethics committee. No notices were ever sent from the House bank about the overdrafts, he said.
Two of the checks written last May were for $100 and another in July was for $542. In 1986, he wrote a $144 check that left his account with a $101 overdraft, he said.
"I'm sorry about it. The only acceptable number to me is zero. I thought it was zero," said Mr. Hoyer, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, who appeared at a crowded news conference with two stacks of canceled checks and other financial papers. "I think I'm more angry than embarrassed -- angry in the sense that more accurate information was not given to us."
But Mr. Hoyer said House bank officials told him about the $542 check last July 26, three days after he wrote the check that left his account $106 in the red. Mr. Hoyer, noting his checkbook showed enough money in the account, made a $120 deposit "within one hour" to cover the overdraft, he said.
Appearing at a campaign forum in Charles County last month, Mr. Hoyer was sharply questionned by other congressional candidates about the House bank and asked if he had bounced any checks. "The answer's no," he emphatically told the several dozen voters.
Asked yesterday why he did not reveal the July 1991 check at the forum, Mr. Hoyer explained he was told by Sergeant-at-Arms Jack Russ, who ran the bank, that his office did not consider it an overdraft since the congressman made the account sufficient on the same day. "The question was, had I bounced checks. I didn't think this was a bounced check," said Mr. Hoyer.
"He was lying," charged Larry Hogan Jr., the Republican nominee for the 5th District congressional seat, who pressed Mr. Hoyer on the House bank during the Charles County forum. "I point-blank asked him and he said 'no,' and he knew that he was not telling the truth."
"I don't feel that I lied," responded the congressman. Asked if voters would feel deceived, he replied: "I hope they don't. I don't believe I deceived them."
Mr. Hoyer said he always calculated there was enough cash in his account to cover the checks. He said he was unaware of the bank's practice of letting members write checks on their next month's salary.
The liberal congressman faces a tough re-election fight against Mr. Hogan, a 35-year-old real estate broker and son of a former congressman. Congressional redistricting has left the district with the more conservative Southern Maryland counties.
Mr. Hoyer and others in the Democratic leadership backed the disclosure of the 24 most egregious check bouncers -- 19 current and five former lawmakers. But Republicans and some Democrats pressed for full disclosure of all 355 current and former members who bounced checks.
The House voted unanimously in favor of full disclosure early Friday morning.
Mr. Hoyer had said he was "shocked" and "angered" when the House bank scandal came to light last fall. On two separate occasions, in September 1991 and December 1991, the congressman asked the sergeant-at-arms' office to review his records for any overdrafts, he said.
Mr. Hoyer released copies of two letters from Mr. Russ, who said the reviews, one of which covered 1981 through 1991, showed no overdrafts.
Mr. Hoyer said he asked the ethics committee late last month for the evaluation of his account by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which reviewed the records of the members. "I was told that information was not available to members," he said.
Last Friday, Mr. Hoyer was informed that he had three checks that were overdrafts, including the July 1991 check and two other checks written on May 16 and 20, 1991. The congressman said he reviewed his financial records over the weekend and found another check from 1986 that was an overdraft.