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Claim: Newt Gingrich "was fined $300,000 for ethics violations."
By: Restore Our Future on Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 in a television ad
Headline: Did Newt Gingrich pay a $300,000 ethics fine back in the 1990s? Yes he did.
Text: A pro-Mitt Romney "Super PAC" is flexing its muscles in the Republican race for president, telling conservative voters not to fall for Barack Obama’s plan to hand Newt Gingrich the GOP nomination. The group, called Restore our Future, is running television ads in Iowa and Florida.
"Barack Obama’s plan is working: Destroy Mitt Romney, run against Newt Gingrich," the ad says. "Newt has a ton of baggage. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, and teamed with Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore on global warming. Maybe that’s why George Will calls him the least conservative candidate. Check the facts at NewtFacts.com."
Super PACs aren’t formally affiliated with campaigns, but they can still spend money to try to influence elections, and they don’t face the same disclosure requirements as official campaigns. In this case, Restore our Future is run by supporters of Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
The ad makes a lot of claims. Here, we wanted to check whether Gingrich "was fined $300,000 for ethics violations."
Gingrich’s ethics violations date back to the 1990s, when Gingrich taught a course at Kennesaw State College while serving in Congress.
The organizers of the course solicited financial support from "individuals, corporations and foundations," promising that the project qualified for tax-exempt status. But an ethics committee investigation 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.
A further problem for Gingrich was that during the investigation, he submitted letters from his lawyers for which "the subcommittee was unable to find any factual basis." Gingrich "should have known" that the information in the letters "was inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable," the investigation found.
The allegations were largely adjudicated by January 1997, with Gingrich agreeing to pay a sum of $300,000 and admitting that he had "engaged in conduct that did not reflect creditably on the House of Representatives." He became the first speaker to be sanctioned in this fashion by the House. (Here’s a time line of the case.)
During this year’s campaign, Gingrich said that the investigation was conducted by "a very partisan political committee" in a way that "related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than to ethics." We rated that statement Pants on Fire. (Read our fact-check for more details.)
As we’ve noted before, Gingrich’s intensely partisan style and his heavy use of the congressional ethics process against others ramped up the level of partisan warfare during his investigation.
But, the investigation itself moved forward with bipartisan support. The ethics panel’s case had the consent of Republicans, including the committee’s chairwoman, and it was led by a special counsel who was not a Democratic partisan and who focused on substantive legal matters.
Most notably, when it came time to vote, the House -- including nearly 90 percent of voting Republicans -- voted to support the committee’s recommendation.
At any rate, the investigating subcommittee released its findings to the full committee on Dec. 21, 1996. It recommended "a reprimand and the payment of $300,000 toward the cost of the preliminary inquiry."
On Jan. 17, 1997, the full committee held nearly six hours of televised hearings, then voted 7 to 1 to accept the subcommittee’s recommendation. The full House went on to pass the ethics report 395 to 28, with 196 Republicans voting for it and 26 voting against it.
Gingrich paid off the fine in installments, according to contemporaneous news accounts. At one point he was even going to borrow money from former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. But by the end of 1998 Gingrich had finished paying the fine without Dole’s help.
Not everyone remembers headlines from 1998. In the case of Gingrich’s ethics fine, the Super PAC Restore Our Future has its history correct. Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, and we rate the statement True.
Restore Our Future via YouTube, Plan ad, Dec. 14, 2011
PolitiFact, Newt Gingrich blasts 1990s ethics investigation of him, calling it partisan, Dec. 7, 2011
U.S. House of Representatives, In the matter of Representative Newt Gingrich: Report of the Select Committee on Ethics, Jan. 17, 1997
The Associated Press via The Washington Post, Gingrich pays off ethics penalty, Dec. 30, 1998
CNN, Gingrich ethics timeline, accessed Dec. 7, 2011
Nancy Johnson, interviewwith NBC’s Today show, Jan. 21, 1997 (CQ subscribers only)
House Standards of Official Conduct Committee, transcriptof news conference, Jan. 21, 1997 (CQ subscribers only)
PBS Frontline, textof request for funding for Renewing American Civilization," June 1, 1993
New York Times, "The Gingrich Case: Text of 'Analysis and Conclusion,' From Report by House Ethics Counsel," Jan. 17, 1997 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)
St. Petersburg Times, "Reprimand, $ 300,000 fine urged," Jan. 18, 1997 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)
Washington Post, "Ethics Panel Supports Reprimand of Gingrich," Jan. 18 1997
Washington Post, "Gingrich to Pay Penalty With Dole Loan," April 18 1997
New York Times, "Ethics Panel Clears Slate for Gingrich," Oct. 11, 1998 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)
PolitiFact, "David Axelrod calls Newt Gingrich 'the godfather of gridlock,'" Dec. 5, 2011