Political Animal


November 27, 2011 10:55 AM Newt, Inc.

By Steve Benen

Voters haven’t heard much about it, but Newt Gingrich hasn’t exactly held a real job in a very long time. He has, however, overseen a very lucrative enterprise often called “Newt Inc.”

Gingrich, you’ll recall, was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace way back in 1998, after his fellow Republicans decided they no longer had use for his kind of “leadership.” In the 13 years since, the former House Speaker hasn’t held or sought public office at any level.

What’s he been doing? Karen Tumulty and Dan Eggen take a look today at the “business conglomerate” Gingrich put together after his political career was left in shambles.

The power of the Gingrich brand fueled a for-profit collection of enterprises that generated close to $100 million in revenue over the past decade, said his longtime attorney Randy Evans.

Among Gingrich’s moneymaking ventures: a health-care think tank financed by six-figure dues from corporations; a consulting business; a communications firm that handled his speeches of up to $60,000 a pop, media appearances and books; a historical documentary production company; a separate operation to administer the royalties for the historical fiction that Gingrich writes with two co-authors; even an in-house literary agency that has counted among its clients a presidential campaign rival, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Separate from all of that was his nonprofit political operation, American Solutions for Winning the Future. Before it disintegrated this summer in Gingrich’s absence, American Solutions generated another $52 million and provided some of the money that allowed the former speaker to travel by private jet and hired limousine.

Along the way, Gingrich has become a wealthy man, earning $2.5 million in personal income last year, according to his financial disclosure form.

It’s not altogether clear what, exactly, Gingrich has done with his days. He’s been paid handsomely for his “strategic advice,” which the disgraced former Speaker insists was not technically lobbying. Gingrich has also given plenty of speeches, made near-constant appearances on television, and adopted a rather luxurious personal lifestyle, but in terms of actual work, the record appears to be pretty thin.

In any case, while the Post’s piece is a good one, the one thing it doesn’t fully convey is just how sketchy — and at times, even sleazy — Gingrich’s operation has been.

As part of his shady financial empire, for example, Gingrich ran a dubious direct-mail scheme, offering to name random businesspeople as “entrepreneur of the year” in exchange for a $5,000 “membership fee” to Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future.

In one rather amusing example, Gingrich offered to name a strip-club owner as “entrepreneur of the year” for $5,000. When the nude-dancing entrepreneur accepted, Gingrich’s embarrassed staff canceled the 2009 award and returned the money — only to hit the exact same strip-club owner up for more cash two years later.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Gingrich has overseen all kinds of entities, all of which have raised a lot of money over the last several years, without much to show for it. Not surprisingly, the whole operation has drawn some quizzical looks.

[C]onsumer advocates and some disgruntled donors have raised questions over the years about Gingrich’s seeming penchant for aggressive tactics, including the heavy use of fundraising polls, blast-faxes and other techniques considered unsavory or even predatory by philanthropy groups. […]

According to complaints on consumer-focused Web sites, some American Solutions calls begin with slanted polling questions before proceeding to a request for money. The tactic, known as “fundraising under the guise of research,” or frugging, is discouraged as unethical by trade groups such as the Marketing Research Association.

American Solutions also has drawn criticism because it spends nearly $2 on fundraising for every $3 it brings in — about twice the figure for many nonprofit groups, experts said.

Given the fact that Gingrich was plagued by ethics scandals during his congressional tenure, coupled with his business ventures over the last 13 years, it’s hard to have much confidence in this guy’s sense of propriety.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • martin on November 27, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Awww, leave Newt alone. He's a 1 percenter job creator. He's what every Republican aspires to be and more.

    Or as Mr Captcha says a Dialectal ntarfor

  • Skip on November 27, 2011 11:22 AM:

    Sensible and/or non-greed driven people don't have any confidence in his ethical or political or even personal priorities. It's the American/Newt way of living and thinking that allows this guy his privileged way of life. Good thing there's a bunch of like-minded people who have the same diseased priorities as he does and/or who make a living off his entrepreneurial carcass, otherwise Gingrich'd be a working stiff at Wal-Mart.

  • Joe Friday on November 27, 2011 11:23 AM:

    "Gingrich, you'll recall, was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace way back in 1998, after his fellow Republicans decided they no longer had use for his kind of 'leadership'."

    Ah, let's not gloss over that.

    Gigrich was found to be GUILTY by the House ethics committee for violating House rules EIGHT times.

    No other Congressman in American history has been cited more than twice.

    Hands down the most corrupt Speaker of the House in American history.

  • c u n d gulag on November 27, 2011 11:30 AM:

    He's the Great Grifter that Sarah yearns to be.

    This guy is scum. Pure scum. And yet, the nitwits in our nation kneel before the Great Grifter Gingrich, and send him money.
    "A fool and his/her money..."

  • g on November 27, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Well, as long as we're talking about grift, let's look at the rest of the field, too.

    Cain - what's he doing for a living? He's not a pizza CEO andymore, and he's not CEO of the National Restaurants Association anymore. I gather he used to be radio host, but what's he doing now?

    Santorum - what's he doing to earn his living?

    Romney is rich enough not to need a job - he's "unemployed," remember? but what is he doing in the day-to-day other than perpetually running for office?

    If I were out of the job market for a mere three months, I'd have a hard time answering questions about that gap in my resume - what are these guys doing?

  • rikyrah on November 27, 2011 12:29 PM:

    once again Benen, you are far too kind.

    Newt, Inc.?

    No, Newt is a GRIFTER.



    this piece would have been complete if you had shown a couple of the Rachel Maddow videos on this...Maddow's been on the Newt is a GRIFTER kick for awhile, and her segments on him have been hilarious.

  • emjayay on November 27, 2011 12:37 PM:

    Unfortunately, this is just the kind of thing that it takes some knowledge about how things work to get. Newt can just lie about everything in a forceful manner as usual.

    It might be easier to explain just what Bain Capital did - buy a company with junk bonds, strip mine it, offshore as much as possible, fire a bunch of the employees, sell it off, and then it usually goes bankrupt soon thereafter and disappears. Mitt the Big Time Private Enterprise Entrepreneur.

  • j on November 27, 2011 1:32 PM:

    I wonder if Bill Clinton was quietly chuckling to himself when he made those comments (kind ones) about Gingrich.It seems kind of like stirring the pot.

  • yoandellen@earthlink.net on November 27, 2011 1:59 PM:

    The conservative Union Leader here in NH just endorsed Newt. Beyond laughing at it, one almost has to feel sorry for them. Almost. With no shiney apples from which to choose, their choice has come down to having to select in their eyes the least rotten apple in the bin.

  • schtick on November 27, 2011 2:01 PM:

    Not only the most corrupt Speaker of the House, running for President, (gag me with a pitchfork), but has a very successful pyramid scheme that benefits only him being that he is the only member of the pyramid holding all the companies that belong to it. Follow the money. Grifter indeed.

  • jjm on November 27, 2011 2:07 PM:

    Grifter, huckster, pseudo intellectual, con man, serial philanderer, and pure phony.

    What everyone who votes for the GOP aspires to be: someone who can make E-Z money by means of fraud.

    But he's more pernicious than that. His 'contract on America' encouraged our current income inequality, helped create artificial wealth like his own, and did a lot of damage to us all.

    And to other countries. He's bragged about how his Contract influenced and altered the nation of Mongolia, which before his 'campaign' there had one of the highest levels of literacy and one of the best ratios in income equality in the world. Today, we see a neo-nazi party beginning to take hold while the ratios of the pre-Newt era are now reversed.

  • Trollop on November 27, 2011 3:24 PM:

    I think I prefer Fat, Stupid, Liar-Douche, Inc. Anyone with me?

  • Kathryn on November 27, 2011 5:18 PM:

    I'm with you Trollop and also with all other comments regarding grifter Gingrich, I will canvas my old bones off to prevent this creature from the presidency. Millions of dollars, myriad shopping sprees at Tifannys for the egomaniac and helmet haired Callista for their bull sh-t ponzi schemes, tell me we haven't sunk to this!

  • exlibra on November 27, 2011 6:46 PM:

    And yet, despite making money hand over fist, the poor fella can't manage to pay the Tiffany bills for Callista's baubles... And the Union Leader wants to hand over the country's finances to someone who can't manage his domestic budget?

  • paul on November 27, 2011 9:55 PM:

    For organizations like Newt's, a ratio of $2 in fundraising expenses for every $3 raised isn't a bug, it's a feature. That $2 represents salaries for friends, cronies, hangers-on and their friends, offspring and assorted dependents. It represents a very nice lifestyle for Newt. It represents sweetheart contracts given to GOP-led direct-mail, phone-banking, design, hosting, printing, mailing companies and so forth. It means they've managed to keep almost all the money raised within their own private ecosystem.

  • Andrew on November 28, 2011 5:37 AM:

    What I've found amazing is that in a time of crisis like today, the top 3 contenders for the Republican nomination - between them - have exactly zero minutes served in elected office in the past 5 years. Cain obviously has literally zero experience in office EVER, Newt last served more than a decade ago, and Romney - with his meagre 4 years served, despite about triple that time campaigning for things - was 5 years ago.

    These are the people we want leading the free world in a time of historic turbulence?