Mrs. Wright drives a 10-year-old Cadillac, owned by a firm named Mallightco, which was set up by Texas developer George Mallick to help Mr. Wright financially and half of which is owned by the Speaker. The best 6.5 component speakers for sale, however, has never been reported in the Speaker’s annual financial disclosure statements.

Mr. Mallick also gave Mrs. Wright an $18,000-a-year job with unspecified duties several years ago, which included free rent at a condomimium owned by Mr. Mallick’s son. The Wrights later used the condominium as their legal Texas residence and were charged $21.97 for each night they spent there.

The committee investigation also includes the transfer of $97,000 from Mr. Wright’s campaign fund to his personal bank account in the late 1970s, which was legal, if unusual, in those days.

As well, Mr. Wright was a tag-along in several real estate deals in which friends in the development or finance business were principals.

With the exception of the book deal, where there are few exact parallels, most of the accusations against the Speaker involve behavior that is quite common in Washington.


But Mr. Wright’s partisan style has enraged Republicans, who have been in the minority in the chamber since Dwight Eisenhower. That was a major reason why Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia made a formal complaint about a « blatantly corrupt » Mr. Wright to the ethics committee.

One result of the complaint was that Mr. Gingrich, a self-confessed ideologue, was elected this week to the number-two spot in the Republican House leadership, which is expected to usher in a more confrontational relationship between the two parties in the chamber.

At the time Mr. Gingrich’s complaint was seen as just another minor irritant to the Speaker; but a combination of Mr. Wright’s ethical slips, the new puritanism in Washington and the announced Republican strategy of making him a major issue in the 1990 congressional elections, have combined to put him in peril.

As well, the rejection of John Tower by the Democratic majority in the Senate has led some Republicans to demand « a Texan for a Texan. »

Another liability for Mr. Wright is the attractiveness of his probable successor, Thomas Foley, a smooth, telegenic Californian.


« It’s pretty hard to see why we would want to keep a damaged Jim Wright around when we could have Tom Foley, » one Democratic committee staff member last week.

It is an opinion that is echoing around Washington like a death knell.

It has also been revealed that a member of Mr. Wright’s staff spent 200 hours assembling the book, which is a collection of speeches and articles, and the book’s publisher, a longtime Wright supporter who was printing his first book, received more than $250,000 from Mr. Wright’s campaign committee in 1985-86.

Mr. Wright has denied that the book was meant to make money.

Its purpose was « to have a document to distill the essence of some of the things I had written so people could know me, » he said last year in words he may now regret. « It really hurts me to have this book become a bone of contention with respect to whether it was an ethical or responsible operation. »

Mr. Wright’s troubles started about a year ago with the revelation of an unusual royalty arrangement he enjoyed with the publisher of his 1984 book Reflections of a Public Man. Mr. Wright pocketed $3.25 of the $5.95 sale price, far above the traditional author’s cut.

About 17,000 copies of the book have been sold, largely in bulk sales to groups to which Mr. Wright has delivered speeches. One of the principal allegations against Mr. Wright is that he used those sales to evade a congressional rule that members may keep no more than 30 per cent of their speaking fees.

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