Sept. 14 2006 11:12 AM

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

By Malcolm Gladwell

       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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.