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Check the Fox in Gingrich’s Chicken Coop : Media magnate Donald Jones has been massaging the telecommunications overhaul.

Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. He can be reached via e-mail at 76327.1675@compuserve.com

Newt Gingrich is not a pornographer.

I accept him at his word that his opposition to the Senate’s “cyberporn” amendment last June, like my own, was based on the First Amendment. So what that the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Donald G. Jones, Gingrich’s closest adviser on telecommunications legislation and a big financial backer, profited from a racy web page on the Internet that claimed to offer “gigabytes of the best adult files online.”

No, I don’t know their Internet address. Nor does Jones, whose media empire is so immense that he claims to have been initially unaware that it included this salacious online service. After he found out, he continued to take the money but insists he never looked at the pictures.

Let’s get serious. I doubt that Jones took up much of the Speaker’s time with the penny ante business interests of electronic skin magazines. There were much bigger fish to fry. Congress was busily rewriting the nation’s telecommunications laws and everything was on the table--broadcasting, cable, the Internet and even the nation’s telephone lines. All those annoying regulations to protect what do-gooders call the “public interest” could suddenly be swept aside. Jones has spent a lifetime chafing at restrictions on his businesses imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, which he calls “the principal culprit,” and now he, whispering in the ear of the Speaker, would be in charge.

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Not content with whatever influence his $125,000 in contributions to the Republican Party and $25,000 to Gingrich’s GOPAC afforded him, Jones moved right into Gingrich’s office for eight months while the telecommunications bill was being drafted. Forget lobbyists; if you want the job done right, you have to do it yourself.

In a June 30 confidential memo to associates cited by the Journal, Jones called himself “a trusted listener and companion” of the Speaker, generally spending “two to three hours daily” talking with Gingrich, and he bragged that on four occasions his ideas “resulted in . . actions on national strategic directives on huge matters.”

The Speaker says that Jones was a “volunteer,” working up to three days a week in Gingrich’s congressional offices consulting on the massive new telecommunications legislation that will determine what you see on the tube, read on your computer and pay for your phone service. This has all been decided in congressional back rooms without any serious debate involving the American public. All of us are affected, but it is only the corporate moguls, like Jones, who are being consulted.

Don’t take my word for it. We have Jones’ confidential memo: “The content of the House bill is the subject of daily negotiations involving the Speaker, committee chairmen, and a constant parade of TelCo [telecommunications companies] CEOs. I participate as an observer and interpret and analyze the subtleties of the meeting for the Speaker.”

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If this isn’t a smoking gun, what is? Early on, Gingrich knew that his use of Jones violated House rules. His lawyer, Sue E. Wadel, wrote to Jones on Feb. 2 that, according to House rules, “The provision of in-kind services by an individual such as yourself could be deemed an improper subsidy of official activity.”

House rules limit voluntary service to “educational programs that are primarily of educational benefit to the individual (volunteer), as opposed to primarily benefiting the member or office, and which do not give undue advantage to special interest groups.”

Jones’ participation in the legislative process, as he describes it, is a clear violation of that rule. Jones owns a cable network and the telecommunications law eases regulation and raises cable rates. This should be an open-and-shut case. But when you work for Speaker Newt, who’s looking? Just the House Ethics panel, headed by Gingrich proteg Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), which has yet to report on all of his other alleged ethical violations.

Speaking of which, the Donald Jones we have been talking about should not be confused with Glenn Jones, whose Jones Intercable gave Gingrich a gift of $200,000 in free air time. That case, along with other conflict of interest charges, including the Rupert Murdoch/Gingrich book contract, is still being investigated by the ethics committee. These things take time.

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Interesting, though, how the people who contributed so much to Gingrich are all in the telecommunications business. Like the fellow said: “Follow the money.” This country needs an independent counsel to keep up with Gingrich and these Joneses.


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