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Gingrich Scoffs at Inquiry Into Course Funding

November 13, 1994| from Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich, in line to become the next Speaker of the House, dismissed as a "nonsense issue" allegations that his political action committee improperly developed and financed a college course he taught last year.

Gingrich confirmed Saturday that the House Ethics Committee is examining questions about whether the course was educational or constituted political activity aimed at helping GOP candidates. The panel is to hold a hearing on the issue Nov. 29.

"This is the most bizarre thing I've been involved in in my career," Gingrich said on CNN's "Evans & Novak." But he said his political action committee, GOPAC, did offer "ideas" on the initial financing of the course.

"In order to make the course available on television and . . . on video takes a fairly large amount of financing," Gingrich said.

"Now, GOPAC provided some initial ideas on who might be interested in financing the course; that's all they did."

Gingrich first offered the course at Kennesaw College, a publicly funded school in his Georgia congressional district.

But he said the state Board of Regents acted to "drive me out" by ruling that elected officials were ineligible to teach at state-funded institutions.

Donors who contributed funds for the course were able to take tax deductions because the money went to the college's educational foundation, which is forbidden to engage in partisan political activity.

Gingrich has said previously that the aim of the course was to offer intellectual underpinnings for a conservative drive to demolish Great Society social welfare programs and that "liberal" ideas opposed to that course were not welcome.

He asserted that while no nonprofit foundation can contribute to GOPAC or any other political action committee, "there's nothing at all illegal or inappropriate about any political organization" helping such a foundation.

The original allegations were filed with the ethics committee by Democrat Ben Jones, whom Gingrich defeated in last Tuesday's election.

"The fact is that every lawyer we've talked to says it is a nonsense issue," Gingrich said.

Gingrich led the Republican drive that led to the resignation in 1989 of then-House Speaker Jim Wright on ethics charges, and he asserted that has inspired politically motivated attacks against him ever since.

Gingrich's 10-week course, entitled "Renewing American Civilization," was made available to Republican groups and a few other college campuses by satellite relay. Gingrich now teaches it at Reinhardt College, a private school in Waleska, Ga.

In his complaint, Jones said the Gingrich political action committee raised more than $300,000 to finance and distribute the course, which he said violates House rules.

Twenty-six corporations and individual citizens gave more than $300,000 to pay for the project, with large donors given a chance to help develop the content of the course.

Jones asserted that most of the contributors were simply trying to find a way to further help Gingrich financially.

"The fact they found a way to make their contribution tax-deductible only sweetened the pot," he said.

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