What's With Newt's Ethics Investigation?

by: Shaun Appleby

Thu Jan 26, 2012 at 06:46:44 AM EST

One would be forgiven for confusion over the issue of Speaker Gingrich's ethics investigation given the conflicting claims made in the course of the current GOP nomination.  Out of eighty-four complaints made against Gingrich the Select Committee on Ethics made a case out of three, two were not pursued because he had ceased the offending activity leaving one case against him for improperly claiming tax-exempt status for a partisan college course he taught known as "Renewing American Civilization:"

On December 13, 1996 the Committee issued a [Statement of Alleged Violations] charging Mr. Ginrich with three counts of violations of House Rules. Two counts concerned the failure to seek legal advice in regard to the 501(c)(3) projects, and one count concerned the providing the Committee with information which he knew or should have known was inaccurate.

In the Matter of Representative Newt Gingrich House Committee on Ethics 17 Jan 97

After a year of investigation the bipartisan Committee found as follows:

It was the opinion of the Members of the subcommittee and the Special Counsel, that based on the facts as they are currently known, the appropriate sanction for the conduct described in the original Statement of Alleged Violations is a reprimand and the payment of $300,000 toward the cost of the preliminary investigation.

In the Matter of Representative Newt Gingrich House Committee on Ethics 17 Jan 97

On first principles Gingrich is right that he didn't pay a fine and it is arguable that the sanction was "narrow and technical," as he has been suggesting since before the finding was released.  But it is hardly an exoneration, as he has claimed, and the complaints which didn't make it through the hurdles imposed by a majority Republican House at the time illustrate a pattern of deliberate flaunting of the laws of election finance, the rules of legislative probity and the regulations governing lobbying on a grandiose scale over almost the whole of Gingrich's congressional career.

Image: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Shaun Appleby :: What's With Newt's Ethics Investigation?
At the center of a minor empire of tax-exempt organisations and foundations which Gingrich repurposed to his vision of leading the Republican party and retaking the House was GOPAC:

Gingrich's political machine took advantage of a number of institutions that actually predated his congressional tenure, the most significant of which which was GOPAC, a political action committee founded by former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. du Pont. GOPAC had not distinguished itself particularly in its early years, but things began to change in 1986 when Gingrich, an ambitious back-bench congressman from Georgia, took control of the group. He instilled in it a sense of purpose - namely, his vision of a Republican majority in Washington by 1996. GOPAC, in turn, became a fundraising machine, raking in $15 million on Gingrich's watch.

Tim Murphy - Newt Gingrich's Congressional Ethics Scandal Explained Mother Jones 20 Dec 11

GOPAC became a funnel for contributions to a myriad of Gingrich sponsored Republican causes, including campaigns, though it circumvented disclosure regulations by claiming less than 10% of its budget went to Federal candidates.  But the selling point for contributors remained access to elected and appointed Republicans.  In December 1995, six months after Gingrich relinquished the chairmanship, a majority Republican Federal Election Commission released documents on the subject:

By not registering as a federal political action committee, Gingrich and GOPAC violated the legal requirements to disclose the names of contributors who provide more than $200, limit individual contributions to $5,000 and ban corporate contributions. Instead, the [FEC] found that GOPAC accepted millions of dollars in secret contributions from individuals and corporations in a concerted and successful campaign to seize control of Congress.

Gingrich has always insisted that he provided no political favors in return for the huge contributions his organization obtained. But 5,000 pages of GOPAC documents released by the [FEC] provide further proof that his big contributors expected a return on their investment in the Gingrich revolution.

Robert Scheer - The Jig Is Up in Gingrich GOPAC Scam LAT 5 Dec 95

Not only did Newt use these financial resources to court Republican colleagues, he looked after himself as well:

According to the [FEC], Gingrich used GOPAC as a personal slush fund to save his 1990 campaign, which he won by 974 votes. GOPAC paid his American Express fees, put him up in the fanciest hotels and provided his campaign with consultants to, in the words of one advisor, "help Newt think." Internal GOPAC memos admit that "Newt support" cost the organization $250,000 in 1990 and that "helping Newt" was "probably the most single high priority we've got in dollars."

Robert Scheer - The Jig Is Up in Gingrich GOPAC Scam LAT 5 Dec 95

The Ethics in Government Act of 1989 states, "No member of Congress shall solicit or accept anything of value from a person ... whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the individual's official duties:"

In letters to supporters, GOPAC left little doubt that those who gave at least $10,000 a year would enjoy extraordinary access to the Republican congressman from Georgia.

Part of what made GOPAC "unique," according to the letters, was the opportunity to "work with Newt Gingrich and to influence his issues and direction." Gingrich himself extended invitations for contributors to accompany him on 6 a.m. walks for "an hour of uninterrupted conversation."

Sometimes, the treatment exceeded casual conversation and a ready ear, according to records obtained through the Federal Election Commission and the Freedom of Information Act.

For example, when the nation's largest producer of cement was struggling to win a favorable government ruling in a trade dispute with Mexican competitors, the company wrote a $10,000 check to GOPAC and received prompt assistance from Gingrich and a fellow congressman who was GOPAC's Texas chairman.

On other occasions, Gingrich helped GOPAC donors by arranging meetings with Bush administration officials and relaying specific business concerns about government regulations.

Glenn F Bunting and David Willman - Papers Show Gingrich Offered Big Favors To Big Donors LAT via Sun Sentinel 17 Dec 95

The trail even led to the Oval Office of the Reagan and Bush presidencies and their appointees:

Gingrich courted top executives across America - arranging White House receptions with Presidents Reagan and Bush, regular visits with top Cabinet officials and members of Congress, private tours of the House chamber and exclusive access to Gingrich himself.

Gingrich once arranged for Emil Ogden, a Texas oil entrepreneur who has contributed at least $51,260 to GOPAC, to contact an Energy Department official in the Bush White House.

Glenn F Bunting and David Willman - Papers Show Gingrich Offered Big Favors To Big Donors LAT via Sun Sentinel 17 Dec 95

So why did the Ethics Committee chose to censure the Speaker on a tax-exemption technicality regarding a relatively minor branch of this extensive money tree?:

...for 10 months, the Republican-dominated House Ethics Committee has been stonewalling the investigation.

The FEC documents help explain why: Four of the five members of the Republican majority on the Ethics Committee were involved with GOPAC's suspect activities. The files reveal that committee chair Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) was active in GOPAC during the period in which the FEC claims the organization was breaking the law. One of her main campaign contributors also gave GOPAC $192,000.

Robert Scheer - The Jig Is Up in Gingrich GOPAC Scam LAT 5 Dec 95

Given that the FEC suit against GOPAC was unsuccessful it is a wonder that Gingrich was censured at all.  Far from exonerating him this incident lifts the lid on a subterranean network of money and patronage which is an insight into Speaker Gingrich's political strategies and aspirations for influence at both ends of the political money pipeline.  He may rightly deny he is a "lobbyist," his grand schemes for laundering millions and matchmaking corporate interests with legislative and executive power make mere lobbying seem trivial and insignificant.

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it's quite literally overwhelming (2.00 / 6)
just how bad a person this guy really is, right?  all this stuff, collectively I mean, all that is newt. wow. that this guy, who is essentially a professional criminal and unabashed swindler has a legitimate chance to be the presidential nominee of the national party that has so dominated the last 30 years of this country's politics must surely surely represent, well this:


the gop is in deep shit.  the ground has been shifting under them for some time, and it's as if they haven't noticed.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

Sad (2.00 / 5)
The poor little bird.

[ Parent ]
And Clearly... (2.00 / 6)
Newt is the the P T Barnum of selling influence.  It amazes me, though, that he is so universally loathed by Democrats and Republicans alike.  Only the Know-Nothing Tea Party could love this guy, but he's a complete anarchist when it comes to politics and policy; it's all just about money and power.

[ Parent ]
check out (2.00 / 3)
the know-nothing viper pit.

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

[ Parent ]
asdf (1.67 / 6)
When not holding forth from his favorite table at L'Auberge Chez Fran├žois, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America.

Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night's debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word's meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner.

After inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction, Gingrich has decided now to bank on the dark fears of the worst element of the Republican base to seize the nomination - using skills refined over four decades.

Essense of Newt, laid bare:  http://opinionator.blogs.nytim...

Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

ot, but room in this thread (2.00 / 5)
bingo, bango, bongo:

The Justice Department issued civil subpoenas to 11 financial institutions as part of a new effort to investigate misconduct in the packaging and sale of home loans to investors, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Friday.

Holder declined to provide specifics, including the names of the firms.

"We are wasting no time in aggressively pursuing any and all leads," Holder said at a news conference announcing details of a new working group to investigate misconduct in the residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) market, "you can expect more to follow."

President Barack Obama said he directed Holder to create the new unit in his State of the Union speech late Tuesday, saying it was needed to "help turn the page on an era of recklessness."


Earth is the best vacation place for advanced clowns. --Gary Busey

Wow (2.00 / 6)
That was quick.  Obama just dealt with one of my pet peeves in less than a week.  Bears watching, though.  I guess they've projected that Wall Street contributions in the upcoming presidential elections aren't worth losing votes over.  Cue the perp walks; we always were suckers for good TV.

On another topic, Jonathan Chait has concluded that Obama's tarmac confrontation with Brewer probably plays well with Arizona Hispanics:

Since Obama can't get anything passed through Congress, one option is to simply clarify that he opposes the GOP's most draconian elements. So: A public shouting match with a governor who's unpopular with Arizonans in general and despised by Latinos. (Her job approval with Arizona Latinos is minus 40.)

An accident? I doubt it.

Jonathan Chait - Obama's Strategic Tarmac Attack New York Magazine 26 Jan 12

Meep, meep.

[ Parent ]
Hmmm... (2.00 / 4)
From your Reuters citation:

In exchange for providing up to $25 billion in housing relief, much in the form of cutting mortgage debt for distressed borrowers, the top U.S. banks are expected to put behind them government lawsuits about lending and servicing abuses - but not securitization claims.


The attorney general in New York, Eric Schneiderman, was named as a co-chair of the new working group, prompting speculation that the position was partly aimed at persuading him to join the settlement.

In an interview with Reuters, Schneiderman said: "The releases have become narrow enough so that I'm confident a full investigation can go forward." Asked if he was signing on, he said, "Not yet," because "other issues" are still outstanding.

Aruna Viswanatha and James Vicini - Subpoenas issued to financial firms in expanded probe Reuters 27 Jan 12

I'm not thrilled with this "deal" as it basically grants immunity to the lenders from prosecutions for all foreclosure misdeeds; an issue which I believe strikes to the core of probity and integrity in this industry.  And it is a criminal matter.  It seems to me it will leave civil actions by individual borrowers in limbo.

Any securitisation suits would be civil, so scratch my perp walks comment above.  I still think this is a bad deal for borrowers.  Imagine finding your case against a lender was weakened by the suspension of your state attorney general's actions because the banks agreed to pay to forgive other peoples' debt in lieu of prosecution for the illegality in dealing with your foreclosure.  I think a class-action suit by borrowers and criminal prosecutions state-by-state would do more to restore faith in the title transfer and litigation process for the future.  A twenty-five billion dollar settlement sounds like a lot but it is nothing compared to the damage done to the foundations of our property law nationwide.  And the MERS mess will probably take a generation to unravel.

Trust the financial institutions and their Republican enablers to wreck the fundamental principles of private property and individual rights within a capitalist society and then cop a plea to a misdemeanor.

[ Parent ]
Correct me if I'm wrong, (2.00 / 4)
but isn't this a case of securitization = investors and foreclosures = peons? We must protect the 1% at all costs.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
Well... (2.00 / 4)
Now that you mention it, that is a credible case to make.  Not a good look, eh?

[ Parent ]
Though... (2.00 / 4)
The "investors" probably include pension funds and other personal investments through mutual funds and so forth.

[ Parent ]
True (2.00 / 5)
but also true that foreclosures impact the 99% far more than the 1% and just the opposite with investments. New world, same as the old world.

This is not a recession. It's a robbery.

[ Parent ]
No Argument There (2.00 / 6)
So the $25B settlement might be seen as a easy way out for the banks; I have reservations about it, frankly.  Having said that it's pretty unlikely a Republican administration would have pressed even that case given their current surreal rhetoric on all things capitalist.

[ Parent ]

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