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CONGRESS: The Liz Ray Reform Kit

4 minute read

While dallying with Congressman Wayne Hays, Liz Ray may have performed few services for the nation in return for her $14,000 salary as a clerk on one of his committees, but she has served the public well since leaving the halls and bowers of Capitol Hill. Her revelations forced the House to consider tightening up its procedures so that the only affairs taxpayers’ money is spent on are those of state. The result, adopted last week by the controlling Democrats, might fittingly be called the Liz Ray Reform Kit.

‘When the Hays scandal broke in May, House Speaker Carl Albert gave the job of proposing reforms to a three-man committee headed by Wisconsin’s David Obey, 37, a tough-minded and rising Democratic star. The group advocated curbing the authority of the House Administration Committee, which Hays used to dispense favors and build his power until he resigned his chairmanship last week. Under Hays, the committee had the right to increase Congressmen’s allowances and even the size of their staffs. To prevent abuses, Obey recommended that such changes be granted only by a vote of the full House.

Proper Records. The reformers also sought to reduce Congressmen’s special funds and little extras that could be used to employ a woman with Ray’s restricted talents. For example, the group voted to abolish the time-honored “cash-outs” system, under which a Congressman gets to keep any money from expense allowances—such as stationery and travel back home—that is not spent. Theoretically, he could pocket up to $11,000 every year. Under the present system, the Congressmen have 14 separate accounts, which they guard and use like so many cookie jars on the mantel. Obey’s trio recommended not only that seven be consolidated into one master account but that Congressmen be held strictly responsible for keeping proper records, such as vouchers and receipts. The group also recommended that each Congressman and committee chairman be required to certify monthly just who is on the payroll and specify the earnings—and duties—of every employee. Finally, the three Congressmen suggested the formation of a 15-man commission to look into ways of toughening House procedures even further.

The proposed reforms were mild enough, but they stirred a row when they were presented to the Democratic caucus. The main opposition came from Hays’ old friends and allies, who argued, rather lamely, that the consolidated accounts would become a “slush fund” so offensive to the voters that the majority Democrats would all be thrown out of office. Among those who pointed with alarm was South Carolina’s Mendel Davis, who once kept Liz Ray on his payroll as a favor to Hays. Other Democrats, mainly Southerners with safe seats, fought against tightening a system that handed out so many favors so liberally.

Supporting the package were Congressmen, particularly first-termers, who face close elections and who were afraid the Democrats would be accused of coddling corruption if they voted no to reform. After seven hours of debate, catcalls and hisses, the Democrats shouted approval of the reforms. Most of the changes are eventually expected to be approved.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Washington looking into the misuse of Government funds issued subpoenas for Hays and some of his staffers, and New Jersey’s Frank Thompson, 57, took over Hays’ old job as chairman of the Administration Committee. Thompson, who had fiercely fought Hays’ tyrannical control, promptly fired one of the former chairman’s top aides and told four others to resign if they did not wish to be dismissed.


Former Congressman Kenneth Gray, 51, an Illinois Democrat, was one of Ray’s patrons until he turned her over to Hays. According to congressional sources, Gray is talking to authorities and offering cooperation with an FBI investigation. Subject: the possible misuse of public funds for sex by Congressmen and Senators. Gray retired from Congress in 1974 after suffering a heart attack. A married man, he was famed on Capitol Hill for his assortment of girls. He also kept a 55-ft. houseboat on the Potomac River for the use of business and congressional colleagues who could be helpful to him. Unknown to Gray, the FBI kept watch on the houseboat hanky-panky for more than a year. It is some solace to the Democrats that Gray is said to be naming swinging Republicans as well as fellow party members.

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