Gingrich Faces Stiff Fine

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The House ethics committee's special counsel and attorneys for House Speaker Newt Gingrich both recommended that Gingrich repay $300,000 to the committee for expenses it incurred as a result of his inaccurate statements while also saying a reprimand was in order. Speaking at a public hearing of the full ethics committee, counsel James Cole and Gingrich attorney Randy Evans agreed that the penalty reflected the serious nature of the charges against the Speaker and the gravity of providing House committees with accurate information. While the facts of the case were not in dispute Friday, Evans strenuously objected to the analysis provided by Cole, which indicated that Gingrich played fast and loose with tax laws in using tax-exempt organizations to fund. Evans argued that a reform movement, and not political gain, was in fact the goal of Gingrich's course. But as Gingrich has already admitted to a series of violations, the semantics were intended to influence the public spin, and not to establish the Speaker's guilt or innocence. The penalty is a reimbursement to the committee for extra work created by the admittedly inaccurate information Gingrich supplied. Such a decision would set a precedent discouraging lawmakers from supplying inaccurate information to the committee in the future. The penalty focuses more upon Gingrich's misstatements than the alleged violations that began the two-year investigation concerning the use of tax-exempt donations for political activities. Evidence shows that Gingrich promoted his college course as a way to recruit Republican activists, and that Gingrich was advised in 1990 that funding such a program with tax-exempt funds was a questionable practice. Members of the subcommittee agreed that the legality of Gingrich's funding methods were an issue to be decided by the tax courts, and that Gingrich should have sought better legal counsel on the issue. Cole testified to the committee: "(Gingrich) had ample warning that his intended course of action was fraught with peril." The committee will deliberate privately and decide -- perhaps tonight -- upon a recommendation for a punishment for Gingrich. The entire House will vote on the punishment on Tuesday.