The Price of Playing Hard-to-Get

Posted March 4, 2008 at 6:38pm

An outside political group spent almost $1 million shuttling former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his entourage around the country in private airplanes as the “Contract with America” creator publicly contemplated a possible 2008 presidential run.

[IMGCAP(1)]American Solutions for Winning the Future, a Gingrich-led group registered under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code, paid roughly 10 percent of its budget to date, or about $950,000, to airline charter companies, according to a Roll Call analysis of the organization’s IRS filings and information available on CQ MoneyLine.

Gingrich, who owns a public relations firm, is not paid by American Solutions. The group disclosed on its IRS reports that it had received at least $8.4 million in individual donations through January, including a $1 million gift from Republican activist and casino boss Sheldon Adelson.

Gingrich last September put to rest speculation he would run for president this year, ending years of back-and-forth with the media about his plans. When Gingrich ended the intrigue, he hinted that his dealings with the quasi-political nonprofit group may have meant a rocky transition to electoral politics.

“Newt is not running,” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler told The Associated Press at the time. “It is legally impermissible for him to continue on as chairman of American Solutions [for Winning the Future] and to explore a campaign for president.”

Soon after Gingrich announced he was not running, the Atlanta Journal Constitution explored the former Speaker’s involvement with the group vis-à-vis the former Speaker’s undeclared White House candidacy. The newspaper at the time estimated that the group had spent $2.4 million of the $3.5 million raised, with Gingrich and his staff using about $437,000 on charter flights.

“The group paid for Gingrich to repeatedly visit states with early primaries and caucuses, build a network of supporters through direct mail and telemarketing and kept the former House Speaker and Georgia Congressman’s profile high enough to fuel speculation about his political future,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last October.

Roll Call now estimates that the group, to date, has spent roughly $7.7 million of the $8.4 million raised on travel, salaries, legal fees and other expenses.

A campaign finance lawyer told Roll Call that Gingrich’s extensive travel alone could be enough to draw Federal Election Commission scrutiny. On its Web site, the agency suggests a potential candidate may travel to explore a possible run but that individuals financing the trip would be subject to $2,300 federal contribution limits.

“Before deciding to run for federal office, an individual may first want to ‘test the waters’… for example, the individual may want to travel around the state to see if there is sufficient support for a possible Senate candidacy,” according to the FEC’s Web site. “An individual who spends money only to test the waters (but not to campaign for office) does not have to register as a candidate under the election law. Nevertheless, funds received and spent to test the waters are subject to … limits and prohibitions.”

In recent e-mail correspondence with Roll Call, Gingrich spokesman Tyler denied the group simply provided legal cover while his boss considered a run, claiming that the group “operates well within the law and always has. There has been nothing illegal about American Solutions and it would be very unfortunate and frankly irresponsible to suggest that there is.”

He also told Roll Call that Gingrich’s private jet travel with the organization is unavoidable.

“As any business person will tell you, growing a company or organization like [American Solutions] takes an enormous amount of travel time. … Newt could not effectively meet all of his obligations without private jet travel and, yes, unfortunately it is expensive,” Tyler said. “In this stage of [American Solutions] development, Newt’s travel is a necessary investment.”

“There will be a time when [American Solutions] becomes established that Newt does not need to travel as much,” Tyler continued. “He is looking forward to that time when he can return to spending more time at home and focusing on his other companies and obligations that need his attention.”

Sand Sails Again. Former U.S. Navy Cmdr. Duane Sand (R) is declaring war again this cycle on Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), “a political chameleon,” as Sand describes him, who’s “able to cast votes like a San Francisco liberal when he’s in Washington, D.C., and then pretend he’s a moderate when he’s back in North Dakota.”

Sand challenged and lost to Pomeroy two cycles ago and lost a race against Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) in 2000.

As he has in the past, Sand is, well, taking every opportunity to remind voters just how combat ready for Washington he is, complete with pleas on fake Navy stationary and heavy marginalia.

And then comes the firearms.

In a recent campaign fundraising plea obtained by Roll Call, Sand, who no longer is on active duty, added photos of his 2005 deployment with the Navy, including a montage of him operating a “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine gun.

“My friend, I’ve attached a photo taken of me in [sic] while I was part patrolling in the Persian Gulf because I want you to know I am a determined soldier not afraid of battle,” the letter begins. “Most people have never seen pictures of in-shore patrol boats in the Persian Gulf.”

And don’t worry, he says, “the picture is yours to keep.”

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