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Democrat Calls for Outside Ethics and Tax Investigation of Gingrich

By Thomas B. Rosenstiel
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The second-ranking Democrat in the House called Thursday for appointment of an outside counsel to investigate whether incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has violated House ethics rules and federal tax codes with his network of political organizations.

The allegations, already under review by the House ethics committee, suggest that the House Republican leader used funds and organizations that were designated as non-partisan to recruit, fund and train Republican candidates and party activists.

"With the multitude of unanswered questions, ethical allegations and serious conflicts of interest faced by the incoming speaker of the House, I believe that it is imperative that we have an independent, non-partisan outside counsel to carry forward this investigation," Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., the incoming House minority whip, said at a news conference.

Bonior's proposal was immediately denounced as "ill-considered" by Gingrich's office. "The matter is currently pending before the ethics committee of the 103rd Congress," said Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley, "and I fully expect that committee to favorably complete its deliberations," before the new Congress convenes Jan. 4.

At the center of the complaint is whether a college course Gingrich has taught, "Renewing American Civilization," is an educational course or a thinly veiled propaganda arm of Gingrich's political recruitment empire that was improperly financed. The course, taught at Reinhardt College in Georgia, was paid for with the help of private contributions that were tax-deductible. If the course was political recruitment, according to law, the private citizens who helped finance the class should not have received the tax breaks.

There are also questions about whether some of Gingrich's tax-exempt political groups were or were not involved in organizing the course.

Bonior said an independent counsel was necessary for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Gingrich has declined to recuse himself from possibly appointing the Republican members of the House ethics panel for the next Congress, at a time when a complaint against Gingrich is pending.

Bonior also argued there is a longstanding precedent to use outside counsels - who do not have some of the same broad investigative powers as special prosecutors or independent counsels - to handle such matters.

Bonior referred to several documents that are part of the complaint that he said raise questions as to whether the private citizens who helped finance Gingrich's course should have received tax exemptions for their contributions.

One of those documents is a letter written to a potential investor in the class by an aide to Gingrich that said "the goal of this project is simple: to train, by April 1996, 200,000 plus citizens into a model for replacing the welfare state and reforming our government."

Bonior also released a letter that apparently accompanied a $25,000 contribution from Richard Berman of the Employment Policies Institute in Washington.

A handwritten note at the bottom said: "Newt - thanks again for the help on today's committee hearing."

Bonior called the statement "most disturbing" and said it "makes you wonder exactly what kind of influence or favors this $25,000 check bought."