I have two items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich’s 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way.
1. Newt talks about one of the prominent ethics charges that was brought against him (the only one that wasn’t dropped): that he used tax-exempt money for political purposes, namely, a course that he was teaching and distributing entitled “Renewing American Civilization”. As Newt states on page 100, “The IRS regulations involving tax-exempt educational foundations allow such foundations to beat the drum to their heart’s content in support of ideas and programs for achieving certain higher political ends (lower taxes, higher taxes, welfare reform, free trade, tariffs, and so on) but not to lobby for a specific piece of legislation nor endorse any candidate nor participate directly in a political campaign.”
Newt states on pages 122-123 that the House Ethics Committee did not conclude that Newt violated tax law, but that it “felt that [Newt] could have avoided public controversy had [he] sought and followed legal advice to ensure [his] activities with the nonprofit agency that transmitted and disseminated the Renewing American Civilization course complied with tax law.” But Newt says on page 107 that he actually was advised by a lawyer, who was once on the Federal Elections Commission staff, and that he was “scrupulous about sticking to the rules.”
The New York Times‘ understanding of the committee’s conclusion is partially different from Newt’s, for it says here, while linking to the report: “But the ethics committee did find that Mr. Gingrich had used tax-exempt money to promote Republican goals, and given the panel inaccurate information for its inquiry.” I say “partially” because Newt does acknowledge that he gave the panel inaccurate information: he states that his lawyers prepared a poorly-researched report, and that he signed it without reading it thoroughly. Why did Newt agree to be reprimanded and to pay a $300,ooo fee to reimburse the committee for its work, if he felt that he was innocent of tax violations? Newt says that he wanted to put the issue behind him for the sake of the country rather than dragging it out for years. Newt was also dealing with the death of his step-father at this time.
2. Newt talks about the census, and how he opposed a Democratic attempt to sample ten percent of the population rather than counting it. What does this mean? There was concern that the way of doing the census—-a door-to-door head count—-under-counted poorer neighborhoods, minorities, immigrants, etc. This was relevant to the representation that areas got in government, and also to the amount of money that they received from the federal government. To attempt to redress this problem, the Democrats proposed that the Census Bureau count 90 per cent of the population, while allowing for the remaining 10 per cent to be defined according to sampling. This is called “statistical adjustment”. Newt acknowledges that there is a problem of under-representation of certain people in the census (although he notes that the 1990 census counted 98.6 of Americans, which isn’t bad for the government), but he did not think that the Democrats’ approach was the way to go. He refers to it as inventing virtual people, and he feels that it could unfairly tip the balance in certain elections.
Incidentally, there was a West Wing episode about this issue. See here for a summary. On the show, Sam Seaborn says that a reason that people in the inner-cities are not adequately counted is that many of them don’t like to talk to people, such as the counters going door-to-door.