The Republican political action committee GOPAC helped “support” the 1990 re-election campaign of Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., at a time GOPAC was legally prohibited from aiding federal candidates, according to documents filed Wednesday by the Federal Election Commission in U.S. District Court here.
Until 1991, when it registered as a federal political action committee, GOPAC was limited by law to spending money on state and local candidates. Based on transcripts of GOPAC meetings in 1989 and 1990, internal memos and other information obtained as part of a lawsuit against GOPAC, the FEC said that the group - then chaired by Gingrich four years before his election as House speaker - in fact was also focused on ensuring his re-election.
The FEC said GOPAC paid salaries and travel expenses of Gingrich political consultants. Among the documents filed Wednesday were minutes from a June 1989 GOPAC long-range planning meeting stating that “Newt must be re-elected” and that steps were needed “to inoculate Newt Gingrich from Democrat attacks.” In a June 1990 memo discussing which states to devote resources to in the 1990 campaign, GOPAC political director Tom Morgan noted that “GOPAC has a deep interest in Georgia”; a later GOPAC report to big donors noted that Georgia was targeted during the election in part “to protect” Gingrich during redistricting in his state.
The FEC also provided a transcript of an August 1990 GOPAC meeting in which one unidentified person said, “We’re supplying, my guess would be a quarter of a million dollars in “Newt support’ per year.”
In its suit against GOPAC, the FEC claims that the group failed to register as a political action committee while it was working to elect Republicans to Congress. Wednesday’s filing was in support of an FEC motion for a summary judgment in its favor.
GOPAC argues that all of its expenditures were to aid state and local candidates, and any support that went to Gingrich was to further his efforts to that end rather than to benefit his own reelection to Congress. Gingrich eventually won reelection in 1990 by a margin of 974 votes out of 156,000 ballots.
GOPAC lawyer Peter Derry said, “They didn’t give him any money to run his campaign or run his re-election campaign. It was all in the context of his leadership of GOPAC. … They paid political consultants on whom Newt relied to generate a lot of the ideas that found their way into the state and local programs that GOPAC ran.”
Gingrich deputy press secretary Lauren Sims said the GOPAC expenditures were “purely legitimate and these are bogus allegations. He did not receive any illegal campaign contributions from GOPAC. He was general chairman at the time and participated in legitimate planning and strategy sessions with staff people.”
But the allegation prompted a swift and angry response from David Worley, Gingrich’s 1990 Democratic opponent. “Newt Gingrich stole the 1990 election,” Worley said Wednesday.
Common Cause president Ann McBride said the FEC disclosures Wednesday “raise serious questions about the speaker and GOPAC violating the campaign finance laws to get him elected. … The speaker spent his career talking about a corrupt system in Washington and it appears that he may have at the same time been seriously violating campaign finance laws.”
GOPAC was formed in 1979 to help Republicans running for state and local offices in order to create a Republican “farm team” of future congressional candidates. The FEC alleges that after Gingrich took over the organization in 1986, he changed its focus dramatically, spending money directly to help elect Republican House members in violation of the federal election law.
GOPAC registered with the FEC in May 1991, but has kept secret many records of its contributors and expenses in earlier years. The FEC said Wednesday that the committee should have registered as a federal PAC in 1989.
Gingrich, who resigned as GOPAC general chairman last May, used the committee to build his national reputation and lend support to his GOP allies across the country.
The House Ethics Committee is examining a half-dozen complaints about the speaker’s ancillary activities, from a college course he taught to whether GOPAC’s big backers got special access or favors from him.
xxxx FEC CHARGES AGAINST GOPAC Among the charges and disclosures contained in documents filed Wednesday by the FEC: Some GOPAC “charter members,” anonymous donors who gave $10,000 annually, included appeals for legislative or regulatory relief in letters that accompanied their checks. Approximately 85 percent of GOPAC’s 1989-90 expenditures were aimed at electing GOP House members. In 1990, GOPAC “targeted” their recruitment efforts in 170 House districts where House Democrats were deemed vulnerable. GOPAC once had a “hard rule” to only contribute money to a GOP state or local candidate who lived in a Democratic incumbent’s congressional district. GOPAC conducted polls, focus groups, and other research to help candidates but made no attempt to ensure that the information was distributed solely to state and local candidates. GOPAC paid to “inoculate Newt Gingrich from Democratic attacks” by producing a 30-minute videotape of a Gingrich speech and distributing other speeches on audio tape. Top GOPAC staffer Jeffrey Eisenach in 1990 was spending between one-half and two-thirds of his time on “Newt support” projects. GOPAC paid Eisenach’s salary and travel expenses. GOPAC considered setting up a special fund for Gingrich that would include expenses for Gingrich’s consultants, the portion of Eisenach’s work that was “especially for Newt,” and “Newt’s and Marianne’s travel and related expenses.” Derry, GOPAC’s lawyer, said that plan was never enacted.