Gingrich Campaign Fends Off Ethics Questions

A watchdog group has filed a complaint against the former speaker's presidential campaign.

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A recent barrage of negative ads and attacks during debates has taken its toll on Newt Gingrich, sending his poll numbers tanking. Now a complaint filed with the FEC against the Gingrich campaign may give his opponents yet more ammunition.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning campaign finance watchdog, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission requesting an investigation into whether Gingrich "converted campaign funds to his personal use" by accepting a $42,000 payment for the use of his personal mailing list—a list that CREW alleges actually belonged to Gingrich's production company and not the candidate himself.

"Newt Gingrich is quite likely one of the greediest people to ever walk through Washington. ... Everything about the guy says, 'I'm in it for the money,'" says CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

[See why Iowa shouldn't go first in 2012.]

The CREW complaint also asks the commission to investigate whether Gingrich Productions held campaign events in conjunction with the candidate's book signings—a violation of campaign finance rules.

The Gingrich campaign maintains no wrongdoing.

"If the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced," said spokesman R.C. Hammond in a statement.

CREW, however, is steadfast in its belief that the former Speaker acted unethically. "There's nobody who ever was the subject of a complaint who said, 'OK, you got me, we did it,' " says Sloan. "I'm moved by their protestations of innocence."

The complaint was spurred by a recent Washington Post story that revealed that the campaign had purchased the mailing list from Gingrich, but that Gingrich had never disclosed that he owned the list on financial disclosure forms. The Post story explained that Hammond attributed this to an "oversight."

[See why Iowa should go first in 2012.]

In filing the complaint, CREW took dead aim at the candidate's moral fiber.

"Newt Gingrich will do anything to make a buck, even sell his own mailing list to his campaign," said Sloan in a statement accompanying the complaint. "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," Sloan added, alluding to Gingrich's 1997 punishment for congressional ethics violations—the first ever such sanction for a sitting speaker of the House.

But Sloan also believes that better practices at the FEC would make for a more effective campaign finance policing system. Acknowledging that the commission may not resolve the complaint until after the election, Sloan quipped, "Just because the FEC doesn't do its job doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't do ours. ... I struggle for new adjectives to describe the awfulness of the FEC."