In an exclusive with Larry O’Connor earlier today, Governor John H. Sununu called on Newt Gingrich to release the records pertaining to a 1990s congressional ethics investigation, in a move to defray attention to Romney’s decision not to release his taxes.
“Three out of four Republicans had to vote against him [on the ethics panel]. Whatever Nancy Pelosi knows, Barack Obama knows.” Sununu worried about the “October surprise” potential of whatever is in those documents.
The ethics report on Newt Gingrich is publicly available, but has been construed as politically motivated. The alleged violations concerned a course that Gingrich taught at Kennesaw State College while serving in Congress. The course’s promoters received financial support from “individuals, corporations and foundations,” promising that the project qualified for tax-exempt status. The ethics committee ultimately concluded that the course was “actually a coordinated effort” to “help in achieving a partisan, political goal” — something that would run afoul of its tax-exempt status.
And yet, when the IRS looked into those accusations in a three-year investigation, it found that the donations to Gingrich’s charity were “consistent with its stated exempt purposes,” and Gingrich’s course and course book “were educational in content,” according to The Washington Post in 1999. By then, Gingrich had left office, preferring retirement to a fight over leadership.
Gingrich adamantly denied violating the law, but ultimately agreed to pay a $300,000 fine for making misleading statements to the ethics committee.
It appears that Gingrich was fined, mostly for political cover to the Republicans. The IRS declared that Gingrich’s course “was educational and never favored or opposed a candidate for public office.”
Still it’s curious as to why Romney’s surrogates are making this an issue, and why Governor John Sununu, especially, is making a big deal of it.
After all, Sununu had his share of ethics problems. The Washington Post reported that, as White House Chief of Staff, that Sununu’s jets “took him to fat-cat Republican fund-raisers, ski lodges, golf resorts and even his dentist in Boston.” Sununu was forced to pay back $47,000 to the government for the flights on the orders of White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, with the help of the Republican Party but reimbursements were at commercial rates, which are about one-tenth the cost of the actual flights; one ski trip to Vail, Colorado alone had cost taxpayers $86,330. Sununu ultimately resigned in disgrace.
Sununu and Gingrich fought often and openly over George H. W. Bush’s decision to raise taxes in 1990. Sununu thought that Gingrich should have been more supportive of increasing taxes.
As Sununu recalled:
“I specifically asked Newt Gingrich if he would support it, and he said, ‘yes,'” Sununu told The Union Leader in December 2011. “The next day, for whatever reason, and nobody has ever been able to explain it to us, Gingrich decided that he was going to oppose it.”
Gingrich, for his part, denies Sununu’s version of events and says that he has consistently opposed raising taxes. The egos clashed and Gingrich, losing the battle over taxes, won the war when the Republicans won the House of Representatives in 1994 on an anti-tax promise.