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Oh, Please: The Hypocrisy Of Gingrich And Romney

To use the adverbs of which he is so fond, it is magnificently, fundamentally, literally ironic that Newt Gingrich, the master of slasher political rhetoric, is busy mewling over those meanie attack ads being run against him.

And to employ Mitt Romney’s favorite piece of management-consultant speak, with regards to those terrible, horrible nasty outside groups, it’s a bit rich for the former Massachusetts governor to bemoan their existence and assert that there’s absolutely, positively nothing he could do to get them to stop.

How dumb do they think we are?

Gingrich has long been a leading advocate and practitioner of the full-throated political attack. His current ads may be all warm and Christmas cozy, with syrupy music in the background, but his lifelong modus operandi has been to demonize opponents, not simply differ with them.

In “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” a guide produced by Gingrich’s GOPAC political action committee, fellow Republicans are advised, “Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. . . . Remember that creating a difference helps you.” Among the Gingrich-suggested words: “radical,” “pathetic,” “sick,” “traitors,” “steal,” “corrupt” and “disgrace.”

Gingrich didn’t stop at hurling words — he launched a first salvo in the ethics wars that ended up consuming him when he filed a complaint against then-House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Tex.

He was also a pioneer in the use of outside groups to buttress his political prospects. See GOPAC, above, and the investigation that ended up with Gingrich agreeing to a reprimand and a $300,000 fine.

So forgive me if I have a hard time generating any sympathy for the now put-upon candidate when he whines about the onslaught of negative attack ads being run by outside groups supporting Romney and others.

I object to negative smear campaigns,” asserted Gingrich, master of the negative smear campaign. Boo-hoo-hoo.

Not that Romney deserves any sympathy, either. The explosion of super PACs, Romney said on MSNBC the other day, has been “a disaster” that “has made a mockery of our political campaign season.”

Really? I don’t recall Romney having anything critical to say about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which ushered in the era of super PACs permitted to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of favored candidates. In fact, Romney told the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald’s editorial board last month of the justices’ ruling: “I think their decision was a correct decision. I support their decision. I wish we could find a way to get money out of politics. I haven’t found a way to do that.”

More to the point, if Romney believes that super PACs are such a problematic development, could he explain what, precisely, he was doing speaking at events sponsored by Restore Our Future, the super PAC run by former Romney aides and now responsible for the barrage of negative advertising against Gingrich.

“We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs,” Romney said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Well, showing up at their events is a rather odd way to achieve this.

Then there is Romney’s phony claim that he can’t say anything to disavow the super PAC advertising for fear of being sent to “the big house” — as in, “My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.”

Oh, please. It’s illegal for the Romney campaign to coordinate with the Romney-backing super PAC, but those rules are porous enough to have allowed, for example, Romney to speak at a Restore Our Future event.

But the question posed to Romney was merely whether he would call on the super PAC, as Gingrich had demanded, to stop the negative advertising. “I’m not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape or form,” he claimed. But nothing — nada, zilch — would prevent Romney from disavowing the advertising or calling on the super PAC to cut it out. Which, of course, he won’t.

This may sound a bit harsh, but, really, these two candidates deserve each other.

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 22, 2011

December 23, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

Newt Gingrich’s Congressional Ethics Scandal Explained

As Newt Gingrich looks to complete his improbable political comeback, his opponents won’t let him (or the electorate) forget about the scandal that ended the first act of his political career—a string of 84 ethics complaints in the House that culminated in a $300,000 sanction. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future hammered home the message in a recent Iowa television ad, citing the fine as evidence that “Newt has a ton of baggage.”

The former Speaker of the House has a handy response for those taking aim at his past. “All of the substantive issues, we were ultimately told we were right,” Gingrich told the DesMoinesRegister editorial board on Thursday. “It’s truly one of the most frustrating things of my career.” He blamed his congressional downfall on bad lawyering and on the zealotry of the House ethics committee (although half of the members were Republican).

Lost in the campaign trail barbs about Gingrich’s ethical lapses, however, is any sense of what Gingrich actually did, either allegedly or as a matter of record. In short, he used a network of consulting firms, educational institutions, and even a charity for inner-city teens to promote a set of clearly partisan political goals designed to sweep Republicans into power in Washington. Gingrich’s web of interconnected organizations formed the early prototype for the multi-million-dollar public and private network he established after leaving public office, known now as “Newt Inc.”

Here’s how it worked:

Step 1: The Vehicle

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. As Connie Bruck later reported in the New Yorker, it also skirted Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements by distributing fundraising dollars without ever actually handling the money itself. In some cases, it effectively served as a matchmaker, pairing candidates with like-minded donors.

The committee’s plan was to change the very language of politics and recast the terms of the debate entirely; Gingrich would, like the professor he once was, educate rising conservative politicians to “speak like Newt.” One way to do that was to issue buzzword-packed cassette tapes to aspiring Republican lawmakers.

The other method Gingrich conceived of was to hold nationally televised seminars. In 1990, he developed a program, the American Opportunities Workshop, in which he offered his—and by extension, GOPAC’s—vision for the future and outlined steps to organize activists on cable television. Gingrich specifically avoided linking the program to the Republican Party by name, lest he scare off political novices. But winning elections was, by all accounts, the intent. As the House ethics committee noted in 1997, “While the program was educational, the citizens’ movement was also considered a tool to recruit non-voters and people who were apolitical to the Republican Party.”

Step 2: The Shell Charity

Running a national political movement without the formal backing of the party was resource intensive. So to save money, Gingrich and his allies tried something new. They replaced the American Opportunities Workshop with an almost identical program with a different name, American Citizens’ Television. And they turned over the operations to the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation, a tiny Denver-based charity founded and controlled by GOPAC ally Bo Callaway, a former Colorado Congressman and Army Secretary.

According to papers filed with the IRS in 1984, ALOF was designed to instill a sense of civic virtue inner city kids by sponsoring “Land of Opportunity Speaking Competition Contests” in Colorado public schools. The charity’s leadership was nearly identical to the leadership of the Colorado Republican Party (in fact, it was the state GOP that had come up with the idea for the contest in the first place).

If the contest helped nudge teenagers toward the Republican party and further the GOP’s minority outreach efforts, well, that was all well and good; the first winner, a Vietnamese immigrant, earned a $2,500 scholarship and delivered the opening Pledge of Allegiance at the 1984 Republican National Convention.

By 1987, Colorado Republicans had lost interest in speech competitions, the contests had stopped, and ALOF had gone dormant. It had just $486.08 in its bank account—but it did have one thing of much greater value: 501(c)3 status from the IRS, meaning all donations to the group were tax-exempt. Control of the charity remained in the hands of Callaway.

Step 3: Doubling Your Money

Gingrich brought the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation back to life in 1990—albeit in a dramatically different role. Instead of fostering a love of capitalism and civic virtues in inner-city kids, it was paying for Gingrich to teach conservative activists how to elect Republicans. Internal memos placed a premium on airing the program in specific congressional districts.

The strategy was clear—by giving money to a tax-exempt organization, donors could effectively double their buying power because they could write it all off as a tax deduction (meaning it was that much less they had to pay to Uncle Sam). Not that there was much of a difference between ALOF and GOPAC. It was a matter of paperwork and little else; the two organizations shared a DC office, and many of the same employees. They even shared money—while the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation was nominally operating Gingrich’s television program, GOPAC loaned the group $45,000; the Los Angeles Times reported that in 1990, GOPAC donors gave the former inner-city charity at least $150,000.

In 1997 Gingrich was ultimately slapped with a $300,000 fine by the House ethics committee for his “reckless” or “intentional” use of nonprofits for partisan political ends.

Ultimately, the IRS caught wind of the arrangement and stepped in, ruling that as an educational nonprofit, ALOF couldn’t finance a purely political enterprise. In 1990, the final episode of the program was produced instead by a third conservative group, Citizens Against Government Waste—which, while not technically affiliated with Gingrich, was a major donor to his enterprises.

With the IRS’ ruling, ALOF’s new role was more or less dead. But it continued to beat on, at least for a few years, as a conduit between donors and GOPAC. Because ALOF owed GOPAC money, Callaway offered donors the option of giving to ALOF instead, thereby shoring up the group’s finances and taking advantage of its tax status. Citizens Against Government Waste gave $37,000 to ALOF in 1991, and ALOF cut a check for $37,000 to GOPAC later that day. The Ethics committee report noted that in addition to Callaway, “Two other GOPAC Charter Members made contributions to ALOF which were immediately turned over to GOPAC.”

Step 4: The College Course

With ALOF relegated to the background, Gingrich once again devised an elaborate funding and control mechanism to organize conservatives. This time, GOPAC would craft and develop a message of civilizational drift that would propel his party to victory; the corrupt welfare state was steering the United States away from the values that had made it great. But to cut costs (and skirt tax laws), he’d recruit outside groups to handle the fundraising and operations.

Gingrich unveiled a new television program, “Renewing American Civilization,” and found a willing host in Georgia’s Kennesaw State College, which offered to make it a four-credit course. Publicly, the goals were strictly educational; privately, it was a partisan mobilization drive. As Gingrich wrote in a letter, “Our hope is to have at least 50,000 individuals taking the class this fall and to have trained 200,000 knowledgeable citizen activists by 1996 who will support the principles and goals we have set.”

You didn’t need to work at GOPAC to see the real aims of the course. Gingrich was rebuked by many of the same scholars he claimed had helped devise the course. Boston College professor James Q. Wilson, whom Gingrich touted as an adviser to the course, actually repudiated the program after initially coming on board. According to one letter obtained by the ethics panel, the famed academic scolded the Speaker for the clearly partisan tone of his lesson plan: “If this is not to be a course but instead a sermon, then you should get a preacher to comment on it.”

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist whom Gingrich had also touted as a contributor to the course, soured on the experiment as well. In a 1996 book, he called the course “a partisan organizing tool.”

It was an odd public-private partnership. Kennesaw State provided classroom space to Gingrich and gave out course credits to students who participated in the class, but it relied on a third-party called the Washington Policy Group to manage and raise funds. All of that would be pretty innocuous, except GOPAC was the Washington Policy Group’s only client, and its staff consisted of three GOPAC vets. Gingrich promoted the entire operation in floor speeches.

Step 5: Public to Private

When a new Georgia state law explicitly prohibited public universities from sponsoring elected officials as teachers, Gingrich found a new home for Renewing American Civilization, but he kept the operation intact. GOPAC continued to supply the message, and Gingrich continued to deliver it. He simply moved the course from Kennesaw State to tiny Reinhardt College. And in place of the Washington Policy Group, Reinhardt outsourced fundraising for the course to a small group called the Progress & Freedom Foundation.

Like WPG, its staff overlapped GOPAC’S, and its ties to Gingrich ran deep. As the Washington Post reported, much of the $900,000 the group raised came from Gingrich donors.

Step 6: Sanctions

In 1997, Gingrich was ultimately slapped with a $300,000 fine by the House ethics committee for his “reckless” or “intentional” use of nonprofits for partisan political ends, and for misleading the House by offering conflicting account about GOPAC’s role in all of it (for which he blamed his lawyer). Although the sanction was tied to the specific violation of providing misleading information, he wasn’t exactly absolved of other wrongdoing. In some cases, the committee decided not to pursue a matter any further simply because he had stopped the unethical activity that had gotten him in trouble in the first place; for other charges (such as the use of official resources for his own non-profits, Gingrich received letters of admonition). That same year, Abraham Lincoln Opportunity was stripped of its nonprofit status by the IRS, only to have it restored again six years later in a decision that raised eyebrows among campaign finance watchdogs.

Whether or not Gingrich technically broke House rules, his makeshift fundraising network was undeniably shady. He gladly appropriated a tax-exempt organization aimed at helping inner-city kids and used it to finance his goal of winning control of the House of Representatives. He likewise took two nonprofit educational institutions and used them to host a college course whose partisan aims he happily gushed about in private correspondence, and whose high-profile advisers actually repudiated it.

At a campaign stop in New Hampshire in November, Gingrich promised that if elected, he would teach an online class to the American people. The course, he said, would be free to the public. If the past is any indication, the real questions is: What’s the real motive—and who’s footing the bill?

 

By: Tim Murphy, Mother Jones, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Newt Gingrich’s Revisionist History

For a man who likes to tout his expertise as a historian, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has a decidedly revisionist approach when it comes to his own history.

In 1997, Gingrich became the only speaker in history to be reprimanded by the House of Representatives. He agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the matter, which involved using charitable groups to promote his political views and submitting misleading documents to the House ethics committee.

The ethics charges sound like ancient history. They involve dreary matters of tax law. But the episode is worth revisiting because it offers insights into Gingrich’s bombastic, push-the-boundaries style. More troubling, in recent days, Gingrich has been blatantly dishonest in his self-interested rewriting of this history, dismissing the ethics sanction as the action of “a very partisan political committee.”

As Gingrich relates the story, “The Democrats filed 84 charges against me; 83 were dismissed. The only one which survived was the fact that my lawyers had written a letter inaccurately and I signed it.”

Referring to California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who served on the panel, Gingrich said last week, “If she was in the middle of it, how nonpartisan and just do you think the process was?”

How partisan? The ethics panel, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, voted 7 to 1 in favor of the reprimand. The dissenting Republican, Lamar Smith of Texas, said Gingrich had made “real mistakes” but called the penalty “way too severe.”

The House agreed to the reprimand by a similarly overwhelming margin, 395 to 28. “The penalty is tough and unprecedented,” the committee chairman, Connecticut Republican Nancy Johnson, said on the House floor. “It is also appropriate.”

Another Republican on the ethics panel, Porter Goss of Florida, said he found “the fact that the committee was given inaccurate, unreliable and incomplete information to be a very serious failure on [Gingrich’s] part.” Indeed, Gingrich’s own lawyer told the ethics committee that the speaker “recognizes the serious nature of the charges and the seriousness of his admission.”

The ethics investigation stemmed from a Gingrich-inspired enterprise during the early 1990s to spread his conservative message — and engineer a Republican takeover of Congress — through a satellite broadcast and a college course that would also be televised.

Both efforts were connected with GOPAC, a political action committee that Gingrich then headed, and were funded by tax-deductible contributions to various nonprofit groups.

For example, the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation, originally designed to help inner-city youth, served as the vehicle to fund the satellite broadcast. GOPAC lent money to the Lincoln foundation to take over the program, then steered its donors to the foundation and was ultimately repaid by the charitable group.

In Gingrich’s defense, the Internal Revenue Service concluded that the Progress and Freedom Foundation, which underwrote the college course, should not lose its charitable status. After initially revoking the tax-exempt status of the Lincoln foundation, the IRS agreed to reinstate it.

Yet the tax questions show Gingrich’s characteristic willingness to skirt close to the edge, if not beyond. Having been involved in a previous case about the permissible use of charitable groups, Gingrich “had ample warning that his intended course of action was fraught with legal peril,” the committee’s report found. The speaker’s own tax lawyer said he would have advised against the “explosive mix.”

The ethics committee ultimately concluded that Gingrich was, at the very least, reckless in not seeking tax advice.

Then there was the matter of repeated incorrect statements made to the committee as part of the effort to persuade it to dismiss the case. Gingrich twice assured the committee — incorrectly — that GOPAC played no role in developing or financing the college course.

Gingrich blamed the inaccurate statements on his lawyer and said he did not review the letters carefully enough. The four members of the investigative subcommittee found that there was “reason to believe” that Gingrich knew the information was wrong. But they settled for Gingrich’s admission that he “should have known” it was false.

“The violation does not represent only a single instance of reckless conduct,” the report found. “Rather, over a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities.”

This is the bipartisan judgment of his peers. Is Gingrich really the man Republicans want to be their nominee?

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 13, 2011

December 15, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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