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.”
On his financial disclosure form for 1987, Gingrich reported that he and his wife each earned royalties from the publisher of $5,000 to $15,000 that year. The Congressman earned another $26,000 in honorariums for speeches that year, but he donated about $4,000 to charity in keeping with the limits on outside income that were in place at the time. In 1990, Gingrich earned $61,000 in honorariums — Congressional salaries were then about $97,000 — but was required by House rules to donate about $40,000 of his speaking fees to charity.
By the late 1990s, Gingrich was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in book royalties on top of his Congressional salary. In 1995, when he became Speaker, his Congressional salary rose to $171,500, and his disclosure form for that year showed an array of other financial interests.
Gingrich reported earning $479,000 in book royalties and $2,000 for speaking to the Association of American Medical Colleges. He and his wife had several investment accounts and a savings account at South Trust Bank worth $100,000 to $250,000. At the end of the year, Marianne bought another money market account worth more than $100,000. As Speaker, Gingrich also was receiving a monthly check of just more than $2,000 to defray the costs of “leadership official expenses.”
In all, Gingrich’s income that year was about $675,000.
Gingrich had become a prosperous man during his time in Congress, but by the time he left in 1998, he was not a financial titan. His last financial disclosure form listed assets worth no more than $606,000, and he had a number of financial burdens dragging him down, including a $300,000 penalty assessed against him by the House Ethics Committee for an improper book deal and a second divorce on the way.
But as a former Speaker still considered a leading intellectual of the right, Gingrich proceeded to build an empire as a paid public thinker. The Washington Post reported last week that Gingrich’s web of enterprises ranging from a health care think tank to a documentary production company “generated close to $100 million in revenue over the past decade.”
The financial disclosure form Gingrich filed this summer as a presidential candidate reflects that prosperity.
The former Congressman now lists assets worth a minimum of $7.3 million — which does not include homes or other non-income-producing property — and millions more in income. His dividends from Gingrich Productions for the year before becoming a presidential candidate were just shy of $2.5 million, and his family-run talent agency paid him another $72,000. He reports no liabilities.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.