June 15, 2011; Source: CNN Political Ticker | It is so damn difficult to be brilliant, visionary, and a presidential candidate to boot and avoid being hamstrung by pesky little things like questions and answers. Such is the life of Newt Gingrich, who is rapidly fading Republican presidential candidate.
It isn’t just that the former House Speaker has said he will brand any quotation of his criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal year 2012 budget proposal as a lie (well, “falsehood”, or that he was a bit unconvincing in explaining that carrying a $500,000 debt to Tiffany’s was a “normal way of doing business”, or that he hasn’t exactly won over critics that his campaign can stagger along in the aftermath of his entire campaign leadership bolting en masse earlier this week.
Now he faces a new problem – but those of us with memories of his time as Speaker will remember the new problem as same old same old Gingrich behavior when it comes to nonprofits and foundations. ABC News has revealed that Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership nonprofit (ReAL) paid almost a quarter million dollars to an unusual vendor – the for-profit Gingrich Communications. Besides edging pretty obviously into self-dealing, ReAL seems to also, according to CNN’s report on ABC, “Serve . . . as another avenue to promote Gingrich's political views . . . dangerously close, some experts say, to crossing a bright line that is supposed to separate tax-exempt charitable work from both the political process and such profit-making enterprises as books and DVDs."
Why do reporters ask silly questions of Gingrich like ABC producer Angela Hill’s query, "Can you just answer the question as to why the charity you founded gave $200,000 to your for profit company?" And they expect answers too (Gingrich answered “no,” although later the remnants of his campaign said everything was legitimate). Still Hill persisted, leading to this exchange recounted by CNN: “‘Cover the speech,’ [Gingrich] told the producer. ‘I'm not concerned about that. The American people aren't concerned about that,’ Gingrich added before getting into his SUV and slamming the door.”
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Maybe the press might have asked Gingrich’s longtime spokesperson, Rick Tyler, about the expenditure, since part of the more than $200,000 went to pay him in his role as part-time executive director of ReAL while an employee of Gingrich Communications (Tyler was one of the 16 campaign staffers who bolted this week).
Gingrich has long mucked around with nonprofits – commingling nonprofits and foundations he controlled with his business and political interests, earning him investigations and fines in Congress and probably a mess of legal troubles until the Bush White House ordered the Internal Revenue Service off the case (PDF). The ReAL story seems to be of a piece with prior Gingrich messes involving the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation, and his 1990s era political action committee (GOPAC).
We don’t mean to be dancing on the grave of Gingrich’s putative political campaign. Its real-time freefall is his own doing; just ask his former campaign staff. But nonprofits should demand that candidates of both political parties uphold the laws and standards of nonprofits and foundations. Or, in the alternative, a political candidate who misuses and abuses 501(c) entities should be seen as having disqualified himself or herself for the highest office in the land.—Rick Cohen