Sept. 14 2006 11:12 AM

Gingrich Faces New Round of Questions:
Allegations of financial impropriety dog speaker.

By Malcolm Gladwell

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       WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 31)--House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) today denied allegations of financial irregularities in his two-year-old Reading for Dollars Foundation, a nonprofit group aimed at encouraging inner-city children to read.

       The charges were first aired Thursday in the Washington-based weekly, Class War. According to the magazine, Gingrich's foundation cannot account for several hundred thousands of dollars of donations, has failed to file the necessary tax-exempt forms with the Internal Revenue Service, and has served as a front for marketing remaindered copies of books written by Gingrich. In addition, the magazine raised new and troubling questions about the dinosaur fossil allegedly unearthed by Gingrich in Montana last year.
 
 The bombshell allegations swept across Capitol Hill yesterday, adding fuel to the growing conviction of many Republicans that the scandals that have dogged Gingrich in recent years have stripped him of his credibility as party leader.

       But reached in Zimbabwe, where he is participating in a dinosaur dig, Gingrich laughed off the latest round of charges, promising to answer all questions when he returns to the Capitol next week. "Right now, I'm just looking for bone," the T-shirted Speaker told reporters, while clutching a beer. "I have a dinosaur to find."

       In a statement released by his office, Gingrich said: "I suspect if I were a liberal, [my work] would be a wonderful thing, an example of compassion, an example of innovation, an example of reaching out to kids. Instead, it becomes one more opportunity to focus only on the financing and to do so misleadingly."

       The allegations surround the operations of one of Gingrich's favorite charities, an organization he started with the stated intent of providing low-income minorities with the financial incentive to read. Founded in 1995, Reading for Dollars promised elementary-school children $2 for every book they read, paying them out of funds raised from Republican donors. According to Class War, however, although the group took in $1.2 million in contributions last year, only $110,000 was given out to kids. The article alleged that the Foundation has not filed a 990 Form with the IRS, confirming its non-exempt status, and further that the foundation had a separate list of books--all authored by Gingrich--for which children would be paid $20 to read. The magazine also quoted an unnamed source as saying that the additional funds were diverted to Gingrich's campaign war chest, or used to fund high-living by Gingrich and his associates.

       Reached yesterday, the author of the article, Pavia Page, called Gingrich a "pig."

       "He's smart," she said. "But as we all know, pigs are smart. I suspect that when he dies, they'll remove the valves from his heart and transplant them into a sick pig."

       IRS officials confirmed yesterday that the group had yet to file a 990. Officials of the foundation, however, could not be reached for comment. At the group's headquarters yesterday--a lavish mansion on 16th Street in Washington originally built by an heir to the International Harvester fortune--the gates were locked and the lights were off. Several days' worth of newspapers were piled up outside the gate. Schoolchildren walking by the building said they had never heard of the foundation.

       "Mister, I'll read a comic book for a dollar if you've got one," said one passer-by.

        In a second, related allegation, the Class War article also raised a new round of questions about Gingrich's discovery of a dinosaur fossil last year in Montana. Gingrich allegedly found the bone while on a two-day vacation in Livingstone, staying at a $350-a-night lodge and digging during the day with, among others, Hollywood actor Peter Fonda, who maintains a residence in the area. On the second day of his two-day trip, sources said, Gingrich disappeared in a rented Ford Explorer, leading to rumors that he had either been given the fossil by local Republican officials or taken it illegally from public land.

       Page said yesterday that she is now investigating allegations that Gingrich acquired the bone as a favor to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Korean-based Unification Church, for whom fossilized remains have totemic significance.

       "This story is going to be bigger than Watergate," she said.

       In answer to questions about the bone, Gingrich told reporters yesterday in Zimbabwe that "It's against the law, I think, to buy dinosaur bones." Gingrich then pre-empted all further questions, saying he had "scientific work to do."

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at The New Yorker.

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