Full payment comes due on Nov. 3 for some in the House bank scandal

October 23, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- The scandal-ridden House bank closed its doors on Capitol Hill last year, but its services are still being advertised throughout the farm country of southern Pennsylvania.

Rep. Bill Goodling, whose 430 overdrafts worth $188,000 earned him a place among the worst abusers of the House bank, is plagued by hard-hitting TV spots that keep the notorious bank alive and could deny the conservative Republican a 10th term.

"Bill Goodling . . . is one of the nation's worst abusers in the check-bouncing scandal," says the announcer in an ad bought by independent candidate Tom Humbert, a former aide to U.S. Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp.

A downcast Mr. Goodling appears in another TV ad, pictured next to the boldfaced "430 checks" and "$188,000," numbers that have dogged him from York to this historic town on the western edge of his district. The congressman "refused to offer an explanation" for the checks, says the ad for Democratic nominee Paul Kilker. "Instead, he lied and blamed the press."

"That's the only thing they ever dwell on," says an exasperated Mr. Goodling, a 64-year-old former teacher and principal who has coasted to victory in elections past. He quickly switches the topic to his record, as he has done throughout the campaign.

"I have been giving 80 to 100 hours every week to my constituents," he says. "Where have they been?"

Like other House members saddled with hundreds of overdrafts, the congressman is finding that the House bank scandal is like a burdensome loan, with full payment due Nov. 3.

The bank scandal, which broke in March, has already led to the primary defeats of six of the 18 current and former House members found to have abused their banking privileges. Another four members retired after the list was made public.

Although Mr. Goodling had no primary opposition, he and some of the other top bank abusers who survived the first test with voters are having difficulty with the second.

A poll published last week by the Harrisburg Patriot-News shows Mr. Goodling's support has dropped 8 points since the TV ads started running earlier this month. Mr. Goodling leads with 40 percent of the vote, with 21 percent for Mr. Kilker and 10 percent for Mr. Humbert. But 27 percent of those polled are undecided, a high figure in a race with a longtime incumbent.

"It's a real horse race," said Michael Young, a professor at Pennsylvania State University's Harrisburg campus. "There's a lot of anger still. [The congressman] really shattered their trust in him."

While the Patriot-News endorsed Mr. Goodling in the same issue, noting his work on education issues, The Sentinel of Carlisle has backed Mr. Kilker, saying that the congressman "never has been straightforward about his involvement" with the House bank.

Meanwhile, across the country dozens of lawmakers who are not among the abusers but still have scores -- or even a handful -- of overdrafts are also vulnerable to defeat. Their opponents continually remind voters of the House bank.

The scandal is also hurting members who have left the House and are running for the U.S. Senate. Rep. Barbara Boxer of California, who survived the Senate primary despite her 143 overdrafts and talk of "Barbara Bouncer," is facing a new round of attacks and slipping in the polls. Her GOP opponent, TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn, has unveiled new TV ads highlighting her checks.

In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine, a GOP candidate hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. John Glenn -- tainted by the Keating Five scandal -- has himself been put on the ethical defensive, forced to explain his nine overdrafts as a House member.

Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington political analyst, said the scandal is being used by challengers in two ways: either as an attack on a particular lawmaker with bad checks or as a more general criticism of Congress.

In western Massachusetts, Republican state Rep. Peter Blute has just started running four new radio ads needling Rep. Joseph D. Early, a nine-term Democrat, for his 140 bank overdrafts. The ad has a Bart Simpson-like character as Mr. Early saying, "Hey dude, no big deal." The congressman is now behind in the polls.

And in Maryland, GOP nominee Larry Hogan Jr., a real estate broker with a "Sweep Out Congress" campaign, is trying to link the House bank to his opponent, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer -- who has only three overdrafts. As a member of the Democratic hierarchy, Mr. Hogan charges in his uphill battle, the congressman must accept responsibility for the scandal.

Political analysts say some congressional overdrawers have -Z been able to put the House bank scandal behind them by a straightforward admission of guilt, a so-called "mea culpa campaign."

"The ones who have handled it best didn't hem and haw; acknowledged they did it," said Mr. Rothenberg, noting that some have blamed their wives or accountants.

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