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Democrats File New Ethics Complaint Against Gingrich : Congress: Speaker violated tax and election laws, they allege. The move follows House panel vote to investigate his use of donations to teach course.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five House Democrats filed a new ethics complaint against Speaker Newt Gingrich on Thursday, alleging that the Georgia Republican violated federal tax and election laws as well as House rules.

They said that he is “unfit” to serve as speaker of the House.

Based on documents recently released by the Federal Election Commission, the filing thrusts another divisive issue before the House Ethics Committee even as it nears the appointment of a special counsel to look into previous allegations that Gingrich improperly used tax-deductible donations to teach a college course. The scope of that investigation is still the subject of partisan wrangling behind closed doors.

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The Democrats made no secret of their hope that the new complaint will pave the way for a special counsel to conduct an unfettered investigation that they believe would lead to Gingrich’s downfall.

Citing thousands of pages of documents, the Democrats charged that Gingrich, as head of a political action committee called GOPAC, “led an aggressive strategy designed to circumvent” an array of laws in his rise to power.

Tony Blankley, Gingrich’s spokesman, issued a statement ridiculing the latest allegations and singled out House Minority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) for scorn.

“If Newt had a dog, Bonior would accuse him of kicking it. Well, Newt doesn’t have a dog and Bonior doesn’t have a case,” Blankley said.

That comment evoked memories of the ethics investigation against then-Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) that was instigated by Gingrich and led to Wright’s 1989 resignation. At the time, Wright said of Gingrich, then a back-bench congressman: “My views of him are somewhat similar to those of a fire hydrant toward a dog.”

The new Democratic complaint alleged that Gingrich misused tax-exempt organizations to illegally fund partisan, political activities, including a college course named Renewing American Civilization, which was mentioned in the earlier allegations.

The complaint also charged that under Gingrich’s direction, GOPAC conducted an illicit campaign to elect Republicans to the House--despite a legal prohibition on GOPAC’s involvement in federal elections.

The complaint specifically cited FEC allegations that GOPAC secretly channeled at least $250,000 to Gingrich’s 1990 reelection campaign, which he won by just 974 votes.

As Bonior pointedly noted on Thursday, the GOPAC documents released by the nonpartisan FEC “open a window on just two of Mr. Gingrich’s 10 years as chairman of GOPAC.”

Finally, the complaint accused Gingrich of violating federal bribery statutes--a criminal offense--by allegedly giving large donors special treatment.

The Democrats cited as “the most blatant example [of] such a quid pro quo” the case of a wealthy GOPAC contributor from Kansas City, Mo. The donor in 1990 enclosed a $10,000 check with a letter to Gingrich asking for help with an asbestos problem that his company was having with the federal government, which was costing the firm “millions and millions of dollars.”

Records show that Gingrich responded by writing a letter on the matter to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gingrich has 30 days to file his official response with the Ethics Committee. The panel then will decide whether to act on the complaint.

In addition to Bonior, the other House Democrats who signed the complaint were Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, John Lewis of Georgia, George Miller of California and Patricia Schroeder of Colorado.

Last week, acting on a host of earlier Democratic complaints against Gingrich, the Ethics Committee rebuked the speaker, saying that he had violated House rules by misusing official resources.

The committee issued a highly critical letter to Gingrich, saying that he had sought “to capitalize” on his office “for personal gain” by securing a $4.5-million book contract with a company owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

However, the committee dismissed that complaint and one other for which it officially found no wrongdoing.

As part of a compromise between the five Democrats and five Republicans on the committee, the panel decided not to punish Gingrich for actions in the complaints, in which he was found to have broken House rules.

The complaints also charged that he deployed a GOP political consultant in the speaker’s office and twice promoted political ventures on the House floor.

At the same time, however, the panel voted unanimously to hire a special counsel to investigate allegations that Gingrich improperly used tax-deductible donations to finance his teaching of Renewing American Civilization.


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