The Gingrich case was extraordinarily complex, intensely partisan, and driven in no small way by a personal vendetta on the part of one of Gingrich's former political opponents. It received saturation coverage in the press; a database search of major media outlets revealed more than 10,000 references to Gingrich's ethics problems during the six months leading to his reprimand. It ended with a special counsel hired by the House Ethics Committee holding Gingrich to an astonishingly strict standard of behavior, after which Gingrich in essence pled guilty to two minor offenses. Afterwards, the case was referred to the Internal Revenue Service, which conducted an exhaustive investigation into the matter. And then, after it was all over and Gingrich was out of office, the IRS concluded that Gingrich did nothing wrong. After all the struggle, Gingrich was exonerated.
The Gingrich case was driven in significant part by a man named Ben Jones. An actor and recovered alcoholic who became famous for playing the dim-witted Cooter in the popular 1980s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, Jones ran for Congress as a Democrat from Georgia in 1988. He won and served two terms. He lost his bid for re-election after re-districting in 1992, and tried again with a run against Gingrich in 1994. Jones lost decisively, and after that, it is fair to say he became obsessed with bringing Gingrich down.
Two days before Election Day 1994, with defeat in sight, Jones hand-delivered a complaint to the House ethics committee (the complaint was printed on "Ben Jones for Congress" stationery). Jones asked the committee to investigate the college course, alleging that Gingrich "fabricated a 'college course' intended, in fact, to meet certain political, not educational, objectives." Three weeks later, Jones sent the committee 450 pages of supporting documents obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act.
In January, 1997, Gingrich agreed to make a limited confession of wrongdoing in which he pleaded guilty to the previously unknown offense of failing to seek sufficiently detailed advice from a tax lawyer before proceeding with the course. (Gingrich had in fact sought advice from two such lawyers in relation to the course.) Gingrich also admitted that he had provided "inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable" information to Ethics Committee investigators. That "inaccurate" information was Gingrich's contention that the course was not political -- a claim Cole and the committee did not accept, but the IRS later would.
the IRS began an investigation that would stretch over three years. Unlike many in Congress -- and journalists, too -- IRS investigators obtained tapes and transcripts of each session during the two years the course was taught at Kennesaw State College in Georgia, as well as videotapes of the third year of the course, taught at nearby Reinhardt College. IRS officials examined every word Gingrich spoke in every class; before investigating the financing and administration of the course, they first sought to determine whether it was in fact educational and whether it served to the political benefit of Gingrich, his political organization, GOPAC, or the Republican Party as a whole. They then carefully examined the role of the Progress and Freedom Foundation and how it related to Gingrich's political network.
In the end, in 1999, the IRS released a densely written, highly detailed 74-page report. The course was, in fact, educational, the IRS said. "The overwhelming number of positions advocated in the course were very broad in nature and often more applicable to individual behavior or behavioral changes in society as a whole than to any 'political' action," investigators wrote. "For example, the lecture on quality was much more directly applicable to individual behavior than political action and would be difficult to attempt to categorize in political terms. Another example is the lecture on personal strength where again the focus was on individual behavior. In fact, this lecture placed some focus on the personal strength of individual Democrats who likely would not agree with Mr. Gingrich on his political views expressed in forums outside his Renewing American Civilization course teaching. Even in the lectures that had a partial focus on broadly defined changes in political activity, such as less government and government regulation, there was also a strong emphasis on changes in personal behavior and non-political changes in society as a whole."
The IRS also checked out the evaluations written by students who completed the course. The overwhelming majority of students, according to the report, believed that Gingrich knew his material, was an interesting speaker, and was open to alternate points of view. None seemed to perceive a particular political message. "Most students," the IRS noted, "said that they would apply the course material to improve their own lives in such areas as family, friendships, career, and citizenship."
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Romney's Dishonest Attacks on Newt's Ethics
Romney has made a big deal of Newt being sanctioned by the House for an ethics violation but never seems to mention what the sanction was actually for. He wants people to think he was guilty of taking money under the table or something but if people found out what hNewt was actually sanctioned for their first reaction would probably be "huh?" Newt was sanctioned for teaching a course at 2 small Georgia colleges and the Democrats claimed that those courses were not for educational but for political purposes. Not exactly earth shattering is it? And the kicker is that the IRS, no friend of Newt or his policies, actually cleared him of any wrongdoing. So it appears his only crime was to piss off the Democrats. Anyway, be sure to read Byron York's excellent rundown of the ethics case (a case he covered extensively himself at the time). Here are some key excerpts:
What a monster, right? Anyway, this is just another thing to put in the "Romney is scum" pile.