Sept. 14 2006 11:17 AM

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       The charitable foundation is based in Washington, D.C. Today, the mansion on 16th Street which houses its offices was shut. There were several days' newspapers in a pile inside the gate, and the telephone was not answered.

       The foundation's nine board members include Gordon Duke of the Bruns and Co. brokerage, William McConnor, owner of McConnor Buick in Tampa, and Stacey Petersen, May Kay distributor in Philadelphia. All declined to discuss the magazine's claims.

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       Gingrich's aides have compared the allegations to the recent but now discredited accusation in the Washington Times magazine Insight that White House officials had "sold" burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery. Some of the allegations made by Class War are unconfirmed. There is no evidence of misappropriation of funds.

       However, FEC filings confirm the claim that all those foundation directors are donors to Republican candidates, several to Gingrich's campaign. As the magazine story says, the foundation and Gingrich's 1996 re-election campaign both maintain checking accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington. The claim about the two book lists has also been substantiated.

       This is the latest of a series of charges which have dogged Gingrich. In 1994, the year the Republicans swept Congress and he became speaker, he committed what he later admitted was an ethical lapse by signing a $4.5 million book contract.

       The publisher was a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and Congress was at the time considering telecommunications legislation directly affecting Murdoch's interests. Earlier this year, the speaker was fined $300,000 by the House ethics committee for furnishing "inaccurate" information to investigators.

       Gingrich's visit to Zimbabwe comes months after he went on a dig in Montana where he said he found a dinosaur bone. The circumstances of the find have been disputed, though accusations that it was planted have not been verified. The paleontologist Howard Lacey of the University of Montana has said that remains of the kind Gingrich found are in any case commonplace in the state: "Kick over a rock and you'll find a fossil."

       Kicking over rocks in Zimbabwe, Gingrich said good-humoredly, "Right now, sir, I'm just looking for bone!" He does not deny that the foundation board members are political allies, but insists that the question about the elusive Form 990 will be answered when he returns to Washington.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is the author of The Randlords, and is a contributor to British publications too numerous to mention.

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