Sept. 14 2006 11:17 AM

 Critics Pick a Bone With Gingrich


By Geoffrey Wheatcroft

       WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 31)--Aides to Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, hastened yesterday to deny allegations about the speaker's Reading for Dollars Foundation. The radical magazine Class War has claimed that "financial irregularities abound" in the foundation's accounting, and that money collected for the reading project may have been used instead for political purposes.

       It is alleged that the foundation's Form 990, the yearly financial filing a tax-exempt nonprofit organization must make to the Internal Revenue Service, is not available for inspection. The Washington Post has been unable to locate the Form 990 filing for the year about which the allegations are made.

       No claims have been made about the foundation's financial filings for last year, and these appear to be in order, with 70 percent of expenditure going in payouts to children, the purpose of Reading for Dollars.

       Allegations are also made that among books on the Reading for Dollars program were titles which Speaker Gingrich had placed on a reading list he compiled for legislators last year. They include Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive and Mary E. Boone's Leadershipand the Computer.

       Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a long-standing critic of the speaker, asked "How are kids supposed to read grown-up books like that?" and called the program "a blatant attempt to propagandize children." Conyers added that a congressional investigation "could perhaps find out where the money went" from the foundation.

       Speaker Gingrich is at present on a paleontological dig in Zimbabwe. He could not be contacted by telephone or e-mail. Reached by a correspondent and told of the charges, he approved a short statement from an aide: "I suspect that 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."

       Reading for Dollars was founded in 1995, to encourage underprivileged children to read. Last year, Gingrich made a 12-city tour promoting the program, under which each child is paid $2 for every book he or she reads.