In the face of continued ethics questions, House Speaker Newt Gingrich Wednesday said he would personally pay the costs of a controversial 25-day tour to promote his book “To Renew America.”
And he added, in a written statement, that he would donate all royalties from books signed on the tour to a charitable group established to encourage literacy.
Nevertheless, the Georgia Republican stands to earn as much as $2 million from the 550,000 copies in the first printing - 15 percent of the $24 retail price.
Gingrich’s tour, scheduled for the August congressional recess, was to have been financed - as is customary - by the publisher, HarperCollins, which is owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
But Democrats had complained that taking money for the tour from Murdoch, who has business before Congress and other federal agencies, could constitute a conflict of interest, and violated ethics rules limiting the gifts lawmakers may accept.
The Republican-led House Ethics Committee, which has not formally approved Gingrich’s book contract, agreed in part and sent the speaker a letter last week noting that members may not accept more than $250 in gifts or travel expenses from private sources except when the lawmaker “substantially participates” in events such as conferences.
The committee, never before confronted with a case like Gingrich’s, added that even when members participate in meetings and conferences, the duration of the paid trip must be limited to four days, and all gifts of $250 or more must be reported.
This is the second time Gingrich has yielded to criticism and backed away from questionable elements of the book deal, which he made shortly after Republicans took over the House under his leadership.
The original deal included a $4.5 million advance from HarperCollins, which was offered to Gingrich around the time Murdoch met with the speaker and was lobbying members of Congress on matters affecting his telecommunications companies.
During a storm of criticism from Democrats and several Republicans, Gingrich decided to accept only $1 as an advance. Nevertheless, his agent was paid $650,000, which presumably will be deducted from Gingrich’s royalties.