In 1979, an impoverished Georgia college professor named Newt Gingrich became a Member of Congress and proceeded to make himself a very rich man.
Fifteen years after coming to Congress, Gingrich was earning more than 60 times the income he reported in the year before his swearing-in. After he left the House, Gingrich leveraged his status as a former Speaker and leading Republican thinker to rise to the ranks of the truly wealthy.
The man who entered Congress three decades ago with essentially no personal assets beyond a modest home in Carrollton, Ga., would now rank among the 50 richest Members of Congress if he were to return to the House.
The story of the rise in Gingrich’s fortunes is told in the financial disclosure forms he filed with the House in each of the 20 years he served in Congress and capped with the disclosure form he filed this summer as a candidate for president. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
In May 1979, the freshman Republican Congressman filed his first financial disclosure form, reporting that his salary from West Georgia College the year before had been $10,166. Gingrich reported having no investments or other assets, and one liability — a debt to the Peoples Bank of Carrollton, valued at $15,000 to $50,000. The entire form was one page.
At the time, a Member of Congress was paid just more than $60,000 annually. His Congressional salary rose sharply over the ensuing years, and his reputation as a compelling speaker allowed him to enhance his paycheck with speaking fees. By 1983, Congressional pay had risen to just less than $70,000, and Gingrich earned an additional $20,000 giving more than two dozen speeches around the country, a nearly 30 percent bonus above his salary.
It was at this point that Gingrich also began reporting small assets and other income — an account at the national Bank of Georgia worth less than $1,000 and a Merrill Lynch account worth $1,000 to $2,500 and two retirement accounts — presumably for himself and his then-wife, Marianne — worth less than $5,000 combined. During his brief tenure in Congress to that point, Gingrich bought and sold a house in Fairfax, Va., pocketing a capital gain of $5,000 to $15,000.
At the time, Gingrich was a backbench member of the minority party, but he was already thinking on a grand scale. In 1984 he and his wife, Marianne, co-authored a book called “Window of Opportunity,” a kind of manifesto for a conservative vision of America based on embracing high technology and on replacing welfare systems with an “opportunity society.”