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Gingrich Criticized For $50,000-A-Plate Dinner Demos Say Contributions Like A Government Subsidy

Speaker Newt Gingrich was the big attraction on Tuesday night at what was billed as a $50,000-a-plate dinner to raise money for a conservative cabletelevision network that broadcasts a weekly call-in program featuring Gingrich.

Several Democrats said the speaker’s attendance was unethical because the contributions were partly tax-deductible and thus constituted a government subsidy to a politically oriented enterprise.

The network, National Empowerment Television, which reaches 11 million homes, said it expected the dinner to raise more than $350,000. The menu at the Hay Adams Hotel, near the White House, included smoked salmon, roast rack of lamb and cappuccino torts.

The guests included Michael Huffington, the former California representative who narrowly lost a race for the Senate last year, and his wife, Arianna, who once had a show on the network.

Gingrich, R-Ga., did not pay for a ticket to the dinner, which was closed to the press. Earlier in the day, he acknowledged that the dinner’s tax deduction - which Democrats said was about $20,000 of the $50,000 total per-person price tag - provided an “indirect” taxpayer subsidy to the network.

But he suggested that this was preferable to federal subsidies for “programs that many people in this room favor.” The people were reporters and the programs he referred to were those on the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio.