Sept. 14 2006 11:16 AM

 Speaker Gingrich Challenged on Charitable Foundation


By Michael Specter

      WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 31)--House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who earlier this year was fined and severely rebuked by his colleagues for ethical improprieties, faced a new controversy today over his stewardship of a charity that encourages poor children to read.

       The Reading for Dollars Foundation was conceived by Gingrich in 1995 as an object lesson in the power of market economics: According to its mandate it pays underprivileged students $2 for each book they finish.

       But officials at the Internal Revenue Service, who are required to make public the tax-exempt information for all such nonprofit foundations--said today that the agency never received any such filing from Gingrich's group this year.

       The foundation also appeared to pay $20--10 times the usual fee--to any child willing to wade through a book written by the speaker himself. In addition, several of the foundation's directors--as well as its chief auditor--were also central figures in Gingrich's 1996 re-election effort.

       "I suspect if I were a liberal, [my work] would be a wonderful thing," Gingrich, shirtless and sweating in the heat, said in Zimbabwe this evening, where he is on vacation digging for fossils. "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 latest allegations against the speaker emerged today in a cover story in the Washington weekly news magazine, Class War, whose editors and reporters have never made any attempt to disguise their loathing of Gingrich or their distaste for his conservative political agenda.
       Some of the charges appear absurd. The article states ominously, for instance, that both the foundation and Gingrich's campaign committee maintain checking accounts at Washington's popular Riggs Bank. So do half the businesses in the capital. The author, Pavia Page, also implies that Gingrich--one of the nation's most enthusiastic amateur paleontologists--stole a dinosaur bone that he displays prominently in his office.

       Gingrich shrugged off questions about the tax forms today, but suggested that, as he put it, a well-meaning underling probably decided to pay the bonus for young readers willing--and able--to read the Speaker's own work. "Right now sir, I'm just looking for bone," he shouted before ending the brief, unexpected interview and returning to his dig.