Gingrich: 1994 Legacy “Hangs in the Balance”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich today cast the Jack Abramoff scandal as symbolic of a broader level of corruption in Washington and called on the Republican majority in Congress to adopt broad-based campaign finance and lobbying reforms.
“This is not one bad person doing one bad thing,” Gingrich said of Abramoff during his luncheon remarks at a D.C. Rotary Club event held at the Hotel Washington. “You can’t have a corrupt lobbyist without a corrupt member or a corrupt staffer on the other end.”
Quoting from the Federalist Papers and invoking such luminaries as Lord Acton and President Abraham Lincoln, Gingrich launched an unapologetic indictment of the Washington culture — a culture he partially dominated from 1994 until his resignation in late 1998.
Among the other topics on which Gingrich heaped scorn: Wealthy individuals “buying” Senate and gubernatorial seats, the influx of foreign money into the American political process, the ability of a single senator to place a “hold” on presidential appointments, and the loophole in campaign finance law that allows for the creation of so-called 527 (soft money) organizations to influence the political process.
In classic Gingrich fashion, the former Speaker had a slew of potential fixes for what ails Capitol Hill. The most radical — and seemingly impractical — is a plan to abolish all political fundraising in Washington, D.C., and its environs.
Gingrich also advocated a lifting of campaign contribution limits on individuals living in either the district or state of the candidate to whom they are donating. In his prepared remarks, he singled out Gov.-elect Jon Corzine‘s (D-N.J.) $100 million personal expenditures on his 2000 race for Senate and 2005 gubernatorial bid as “convincing proof” that citizens should be allowed to donate unlimited amounts to home-state or local-district candidates “to offset the big rich ability to buy power.”
Notably missing from the speech was mention of a two-year ethics inquiry into Gingrich’s use of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political purposes. Gingrich agreed to pay a $300,000 “cost assessment” after he said he unintentionally provided incorrect information to the Ethics Committee.
Gingrich called on House Republican leaders to begin moving an ethics package when they return at the end of the month and make it their “highest priority” in the second session of the 109th Congress. “This is the moment when the Republican leadership has to reaffirm itself as the Reform party,” Gingrich said. “The danger for Republicans is to pretend this isn’t fundamental.”
The former Speaker also reiterated his belief that Texas Rep. Tom DeLay (R) should not return as House Majority Leader. Gingrich refused to make a personal rebuke of DeLay, saying only that the House simply cannot run without a full-time majority leader and that DeLay’s legal case is unlikely to be wrapped up anytime soon.
Asked whether his reform zeal could form the foundation for a presidential bid in 2008, Gingrich offered only a tight-lipped smile.