Although Newt Gingrich was narrowly re-elected as Speaker of the House, he will soon face the judgment of his peers.
The question is whether he will have to face the consequences of his actions, or whether he will get off the hook with an apology and a false excuse.
In September, 1994, Ben Jones, who ran against the Speaker in 1994, asked the House Ethics Committee to find out whether Rep. Gingrich had used nonprofit organizations to launder money for his partisan political activities.
After an exhaustive investigation, conducted by an impartial special counsel, the Investigative Subcommittee found substantial evidence that Gingrich did conduct partisan activities through charitable foundations, such as the Progress and Freedom Foundation. He used some of the money to advance his political agenda through a thinly-disguised, televised “college course.”
It’s no mystery why he ran this money laundering operation. He did this because tax deductible money is much easier to raise, and is not taxed. The legality is dubious, and Gingrich’s actions are currently under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.
More important, though, is the dishonesty, and the way that the Speaker violated the trust of the taxpayers — all of us. Money that should have gone into the U.S. Treasury ended up in Gingrich’s political machine. In other words, the Speaker of the House fleeced us taxpayers to fund his political agenda.
We don’t know exactly how much of Gingrich’s political money should have gone to the Treasury as taxes. But the Los Angeles Times reported that six foundations with close ties to Gingrich’s political organization, GOPAC, raised at least $6 million in charitable contributions.
It was bad enough that Gingrich did these things. Then he didn’t tell the truth about them. The Gingrich Investigative Subcommittee’s Statement of Alleged Violation found that the Speaker made thirteen false or highly misleading statements directly or through counsel to the Ethics Committee. These weren’t minor errors. They went to the heart of the matter -whether Gingrich engaged in laundering charitable money.
For example, during the investigation, Gingrich stated to the Ethics Committee, through counsel, that his foundation-run “Renewing American Civilization” college course was “completely non-partisan.”
Yet Gingrich had written previously to his political supporters that he hoped that his course “will provide the structure to build an offense so that Republicans can break through dramatically in 1996.” That’s what the Speaker calls “completely non-partisan.”
Yes, it would have been inconvenient for Gingrich to ad it to the Ethics Committee — from the beginning — that his foundation activities were partisan, and probably in violation of federal law. But inconveniences are no excuse for dishonesty.
When he was caught, Gingrich quickly pleaded ignorance and naiveté. He said “I did not seek legal counsel when I should have in order to ensure clear compliance with all applicable laws, and that was wrong.”
That was touching, but once again it was untrue. Internal GOPAC memoranda show that two of his own lawyers had warned of this tax law problem. For example, in 1990, GOPAC attorney Gordon Strauss explicitly warned of the “express prohibition” against using tax-exempt foundations for political activities.
This is not the first time that Gingrich has been in trouble with the House Ethics Committee. He is a repeat offender. The Ethics Committee found that he violated House Rules by allowing a big campaign donor who was a telecommunications executive to work on a telecommunications bill in the Speaker’s offices, for allowing his top outside political consultant to do official staff work, and for using the House floor for commercial purposes.
Regarding his gaudy $4.5 million book deal, the Ethics Committee wrote that it “creates the appearance of exploiting one’s office for personal gain. Such a perception is especially troubling when it pertains to the office of the Speaker of the House, a constitutional office requiring the highest standards of ethical behavior.”
These are the facts. Apologies are not enough, especially when they continue the deceit. The Speaker has acted in a way that brings dishonor upon his office, and he should bear the consequences. At the very least, he does not deserve to sit in the Speaker’s Chair anymore.