Newt and the House Ethics Committee

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NANCY’S DILEMMA

On March 21, Nancy Johnson, chair of the House Ethics Committee, told reporters that the allegations against the Speaker were not “frivolous.”

Gingrich ally Paul Weyrich struck back quickly, saying that if Johnson “makes the wrong decision” on an investigator, “she will weaken the speaker of her own party and …affect her chances of continuing to be a committee chairman.”

Meanwhile, Gingrich slammed a bill through the House that was Johnson’s biggest priority this year. The bill benefits the powerful insurance companies in her home state of Connecticut, from whom she collected $95,000 in 1991-1992.

Was Gingrich trying to influence the Ethics Committee chair? Continued questions about Johnson’s impartiality are legitimate and inevitable.


All four Republicans on the Ethics Committee have at least one seeming conflict with either Gingrich or GOPAC.

  • Porter Goss’ campaign contributed $5,000 last year to Gingrich’s GOPAC. Goss, of Florida, said he was surprised to have been reappointed to the panel.
  • Steven Schiff, of New Mexico, may be called as a witness in the very case he is expected to judge. In 1993, a lobbyist for the restaurant industry, Richard Berman, gave $25,000 to Gingrich’s college course while seeking Newt’s help in testifying against a bill authored by Schiff. (See “The Berman Letter”) Democrats claim the incident constitutes an illegal gratuity and Schiff could be asked to testify.
  • Jim Bunning, of Kentucky, received support from GOPAC in 1979 when he ran for the Kentucky legislature. He has also attended GOPAC meetings. He denies a conflict, noting that Gingrich didn’t run GOPAC at that time. But Bunning also shares with GOPAC a billionaire contributor, Carl Lindner of Cincinnati (a former cohort of Charles Keating).
  • Finally, Dave Hobson, of Ohio, privately solicited a letter from a former Ethics Committee staffer that is being used in Gingrich’s defense.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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