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May 24 — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich—said to be on the short list of possible vice presidential running mates for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—still has some problems left over from the last presidential campaign.
Gingrich ended his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 with more than $4.6 million in debts. The debts still have not been paid off four years later despite a recent agreement with the Federal Election Commission to come up with a debt settlement plan and terminate Gingrich's presidential campaign committee, called Newt 2012.
The FEC has now agreed to postpone the deadline for Gingrich's debt settlement plan, which originally was set for May 23. According to a filing with the FEC, the new deadline for the plan is Aug. 1—after this summer's Republican National Convention.
The Gingrich campaign's agreement with the FEC stemmed from a long-running enforcement case which was revealed by the FEC in April. The FEC announced that it was entering into a settlement under its alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program to resolve reporting violations by the Gingrich 2012 campaign.
In addition to the campaign's agreement to resolve its debts and terminate, the campaign filed a notice to the FEC correcting the reporting violation. The notice said that a reported campaign disbursement of $47,005 to Gingrich to cover travel costs was erroneous because the amount was paid to cover “expenses incurred in connection with acquisition of a mailing list and travel.”
The notice indicated the reporting errors by the campaign were unintentional and were corrected without prompting by the FEC.
The Gingrich campaign's reporting issues were addressed in a settlement designated ADR 772, which was released last month at the same time that the FEC released an enforcement case designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6518.
In the latter case, the FEC dismissed more serious charges against Gingrich and his campaign, including allegations that the campaign illegally commingled its funds with a corporation headed by Gingrich and his wife, Callista, and that Gingrich violated rules against personal use of campaign funds.
The allegations were dismissed on a deadlocked, party-line vote of the six FEC commissioners. The three commissioners holding Democratic seats voted to follow staff recommendations to pursue enforcement action, while the three FEC Republicans voted to drop the matter.
In addition to the notice correcting its disclosure reporting, the ADR settlement called on Gingrich's campaign to come up with a debt settlement plan and terminate. FEC rules require a defunct campaign to settle debts in order to avoid receiving illegal contributions from companies and others that the campaign owes money to.
The Gingrich campaign's latest disclosure report filed with the FEC last month has 37 pages listing debts to consultants, fundraisers, printers, vendors and others.
The largest debt is nearly $1 million owed to Moby Dick Airways, a charter aircraft company on which Gingrich traveled during the campaign. Other big debts include nearly $650,000 owed to Gingrich, himself, for travel costs, as well as nearly $290,000 owed to lawyers at the firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.
That firm has now merged with the Dentons law firm, where Gingrich, who is not a lawyer, currently is serves as a senior adviser. Attorney Stefan Passantino, who represents Gingrich and his campaign before the FEC, also works at Dentons as a partner in the firm.
The FEC enforcement action stemmed from a wide-ranging complaint against Gingrich and his presidential campaign filed in December 2011 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal nonprofit group.
The complaint cited news reports about the campaign's payment of $42,000 to Gingrich for a mailing list. It also cited reports that a corporation set up by Gingrich and his wife “routinely hold dual purpose events to promote the presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich and to sell books authored by Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista Gingrich.”
The complaint charged that campaign finance violations occurred when campaign resources were used to help the couple profit personally from sales of their book. In addition, CREW charged that the arrangement allowed corporate funds from the Gingrich production company to subsidize the campaign.
A response to the complaint filed in February 2012 by Passantino and another attorney, Benjamin Keane, denied the allegations.
“At all times,” the response said, “both Mrs. Gingrich and Speaker Gingrich have been careful to separate business activities conducted on behalf of Gingrich Productions and campaign activities associated with the Speaker's presidential run.”
The FEC general counsel's office completed a report in January 2013 concluding that available information, including information provided by the Gingrich campaign, suggested Gingrich Productions may have illegally “supplemented the costs of campaign-related events.” The report recommended that the commission find “reason to believe” campaign finance laws were violated and approve a full investigation.
The counsel's office recommendations were not considered by the six FEC commissioners until June 2015, when the party-line deadlocked vote resulted in dismissal of the more serious charges against Gingrich and the campaign.
The enforcement matter still was kept under wraps until last month, however. That's when the FEC released both the ADR settlement resolving the Gingrich campaign's reporting violations and the previously dismissed enforcement matter involving wider allegations.
A statement issued last month by CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz in response to the FEC action focused on the FEC's failure to impose a fine on the Gingrich campaign and the long delay in resolving the case. The statement faulted the three Republican FEC commissioners for voting against stronger enforcement action.
“The FEC’s General Counsel recommended action be taken in January 2013, but the FEC did not consider the complaint for more than two years after that, without any reason for the delay,” Libowitz said. “When the Commission did finally take up the case, partisan deadlock prevented any investigation of the serious potential violations identified by the General Counsel’s Office. … We look forward to reading about the slaps on the wrist they dole out for serious violations in this election cycle sometime in the 2020s.”
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Documents from closed FEC enforcement cases are available online at http://eqs.fec.gov/eqs/searcheqs.
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