The GOP candidate holds up his old nonprofit, Earning by Learning, as a way to teach kids the value of a buck. Here's what he doesn't mention.
Tim MurphyDec. 7, 2011 7:00 AM
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2004
For a politician who once proposed relocating children from single-parent households to orphanages, it was not all that surprising when Newt Gingrich recently declared that, if elected president, he'd ease child labor laws to allow poor kids to work as janitors.
What's notable, however, is the newly minted GOP presidential front-runner's explanation. Gingrich argues that poor children lack role models who can instill in them the value of hard work—something that, say, a part-time job cleaning bathrooms could easily remedy. Making his case to an audience in Des Moines, Iowa, last week, Gingrich touted the work of an educational nonprofit he founded in the early 1990s called Earning by Learning (EBL). The program offered cash—$2 per book—to students as an incentive to read over the summer. What he failed to mention is that his group also led to a formal ethics complaint amid concerns about not just who was funding Gingrich's program, but where that money was really going.
As Gingrich tells it, the program started that first summer in 1990 with 9 kids and ended with 30. "What happened was simple," he said. "The ice cream truck comes by. The kid who's in the program walks up and buys their own ice cream. Their friend says to them, 'How come you have money?' He goes, 'Well, I read.' So kids are showing up to the program saying, 'I demand that you let me read!'"
The point of the story is that private initiatives often succeed where government programs fail. EBL was a lean, mean, private machine. "The overhead is entirely voluntary," Gingrich said of the program in 1995. "The only money goes to the kids. So if you have $1,000 at $2 a book, you can pay for 500 books. Whereas, in the welfare state model, if you have $1,000, you pay $850 for the bureaucracy."
But that description turned out to be false. A 1995 Mother Jones investigation revealed that the program's all-volunteer army came at a hefty price. The group paid its Atlanta volunteers $500 each; nearly half of the total budget of the Houston branch of the program went to one salaried staff position.
A Wall Street Journal report earlier that year was even more damning, revealing that most of the money in the program's endowment in Georgia was being kicked back to Gingrich's friends, including Mel Steely, a former Gingrich staffer who was at the time working on an authorized biography of the House speaker. According to the paper, "90% of the $20,000 raised in the past year went to Steely and two other professors who help him evaluate the program. The children earned less than $10,000, from money leftover from prior years."
TheLos Angeles Times piled on, noting that "reading program funds were used to reimburse Steely for travel, lodging and meal expenses during three trips to attend Gingrich's Saturday morning college course." The overhead, in other words, was actually quite substantial.
If you're a resident of Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, or Minnesota, you're on notice. Starting this week,Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who is currently challenging President Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, will begin airing graphic campaign ads featuring what purport to be aborted fetuses, during local news broadcasts.
As I reported last month, the ad buy is part of Terry's nationwide strategy to take advantage of an FCC loophole barring censorship of campaign ads. Although networks and their local affiliates have the authority—and a legal imperative, in some cases—to block "indecent" material from the airwaves, there's an exception when it comes to political spots, so long as they're within 45 days of a primary or caucus.
Per a release:
The ad has multiple graphic images of babies murdered by abortion, and makes the argument that to vote for Obama knowing that Obama supports the murder of babies is a betrayal of the Catholic Faith.
The ad will run on every TV station in Iowa and the five state regions that surrounds Iowa (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, and Minnesota). The ad will run on at least one news broadcast per station.
Last year, following a successful trial run in a Washington, D.C. congressional race (for the non-voting "delegate" position), Terry announced plans to field single-issue congressional candidates in the nation's 25 biggest media markets, for the sole purpose of running graphic anti-abortion spots that would otherwise never make it onto the airwaves. Terry's already recruited candidates in Cincinnati, the Twin Cities, and St. Louis—and he himself is taking on Obama.
This video of an eight-year-old cub activist named Elijah confronting Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on gay rights hit the tubes on Sunday and went viral pretty fast. It's pretty easy to see why: Elijah tells Bachmann, "My mommy's gay but she doesn't need any fixing." Bachmann's response, other than momentary shock, is to wave "bye, bye" to the kid.
Bachmann is currently lagging in single digits in Iowa, where by all accounts she needs a strong showing. But she's built up enough of a reputation for her opposition to gay rights that, even as she slides in the polls, she still has a pretty sizable bullseye on her back and has been on the receiving end of a number of similar video ambushes.
If you have a ton of cash and a political agenda, it's easier than ever to make powerful friends and influence people. Here's a handy how-to guide to the complex, cash-drenched world of federal campaign finance.
Now that's he's the front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich's 33-year-record is officially open for scrutiny. There are plenty of reasons why conservatives might reject the former Speaker of the House, but here's another one: guns. Georgia Gun Owners, a grassroots gun rights group from his home state, is now blasting Gingrich for "his more than two-decade history of supporting gun control." The group has asked its 6,000 members to call Gingrich's new Iowa headquarters and make their complaints known.
Per the release the group blasted out this morning:
While Newt used the institutional gun lobby as a mouthpiece to convince millions of gun owners nationwide that "as long as he is Speaker, no gun-control legislation is going to move in committee or on the House floor," he was working behind the scenes to pass gun control.
In 1996, Newt Gingrich turned his back on gun owners and voted for the anti-gun Brady Campaign's Lautenberg Gun Ban, which strips the Second Amendment rights of citizens involved in misdemeanor domestic violence charges or temporary protection orders -- in some cases for actions as minor as spanking a child.
Gingrich also stood shoulder to shoulder with Nancy Pelosi to pass the "Criminal Safezones Act" which prevents armed citizens from defending themselves in certain arbitrary locations. Virtually all Americans know that Criminal Safezones don't protect law-abiding citizens, but actually protect the criminals who ignore them.
One of the problems with having a 33-year political career is that you accumulate a really long record of positions. It doesn't help Gingrich that he made his biggest impact in the '90s, when gun control and crime were much higher-profile issues than they are today. And as Elizabeth Drew recounts in her book Showdown, Gingrich viewed the gun lobby as a group that must be appeased, but it wasn't exactly his core constituency as Speaker.
An important caveat, though: If Gingrich is unappealing on guns, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hardly a palatable alternative. A similar group in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, has been handing out anti-Romney literature in the Granite State, touting (among other things) his support for a ban on assault weapons. If you're a hard-core Second Amendment rights activist, you likely cast your lot with Ron Paul a long time ago.