The high cost of defending himself is one thing that House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) probably won't have to worry about if he's indicted for his alleged role in the House Post Office scandal. Rosty has hired a high-powered--and expensive--legal team headed by criminal defense specialist Robert Bennett. So far, an aide says, he has spent about $500,000, and a trial could cost several times that much.
But federal law gives Rostenkowski a variety of means to defray his legal defense. Although new campaign contributions may be off-limits, a 1977 Federal Election Commission ruling allows the Ways & Means chieftain to use funds left over from previous elections. Rostenkowski ended 1992 with a hefty $1.2 million on hand. If he runs through that, he can ask the House ethics committee to let him set up a legal defense fund--and he would probably have little trouble raising money from the interests that lobby his committee. Supporters, including unions and corporations that can't make direct campaign contributions, could chip in up to $5,000 apiece. And the gifts need not be disclosed until next May. So far, Rosty hasn't moved to establish a fund. But, says an associate: "Never say never."