A campaign ethics watchdog group charged in a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich illegally used campaign funds to enrich himself by using $42,000 in donations to pay himself for a mailing list.
The complaint comes as the finances of Mr. Gingrich's cash-flush company (Gingrich Productions), a debt-saddled political campaign (Newt 2012), and the former House speaker himself have become intimately intertwined.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed the complaint after a campaign official said the candidate's campaign had paid Mr. Gingrich personally for a mailing list but did not disclose the payment as required.
Candidates are prohibited from converting campaign funds to "personal use," which CREW says was the net effect of Newt 2012 buying the mailing list. In addition companies are barred from giving away significant products to candidates.
"Newt Gingrich will do anything to make a buck, even sell his own mailing list to his campaign. He has a long history of playing fast and loose with ethics rules so it should surprise no one to learn he is at it again," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.
Mr. Gingrich had never acknowledged personally owning such a list in the itemizations of personal assets that prospective presidential candidates must file. CREW's complaint says the mailing list is not a personal asset but almost certainly came from Gingrich Productions, though it could also have come from one of Mr. Gingrich’s previous campaigns or one of his numerous corporations.
This past summer, Mr. Gingrich's campaign was flailing and mired in debt. Disclosures said it owed $47,000 to Mr. Gingrich for travel and direct-mail lists, in addition to a half-million dollars to a private plane company, lawyers fees, and other costs.
The campaign had paid Mr. Gingrich an additional $10,000 in reimbursed costs and $8,400 to Gingrich Productions for Web development.
As of September, it had recorded $1.2 million in debts to 50 entities, including $125,000 to Mr. Gingrich himself.
Months later, a spokesman said it had since paid the candidate $42,000 — ahead of other creditors — for the list. But it never disclosed settling the debt in filings covering that time period, an omission the spokesman said was an oversight.
A campaign spokesman denied the accusations in CREW's filing, which called for the FEC to investigate, but he declined to elaborate.
"If the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced," R.C. Hammond said in a statement.
The candidate's operation is also muddled with a book tour. Books by Mr. Gingrich and his wife are sold at campaign events, and some supporters incorrectly believe sales support the campaign; company staffers collect names used for political purposes; and it's unclear how expenses are split between the campaign and the company - potential legal problems, the CREW filing claims.
For years, Mr. Gingrich traveled in style and billed expenses to American Solutions: Winning the Future, a now-defunct nonprofit he headed. American Solutions favored some of the same vendors as did his campaign.
He has more recently come under fire for paid work that his consulting firm, Gingrich Group, did for Freddie Mac, the home-loan corporation that needed a federal bailout. Mr. Gingrich noted that Freddie Mac's consulting fees were paid to the company, not to him personally.
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Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at email@example.com.
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