As you read this, the House Ethics Committee is moving toward hiring an outside counsel to investigate charges against Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

As Mother Jones has reported over the last year, Gingrich constructed an illegal fundraising machine that enabled him to flout federal campaign laws and misuse the tax-exempt status allowed charities. The machine consisted of Gingrich's political action committee, GOPAC; his think tank, the Progress & Freedom Foundation; and his televised college course, "Renewing American Civilization." These intertwined projects made up a stealth organization that sponsored congressional candidates who would be loyal to Gingrich. As far back as 1986, current Republican presidential candidate Lamar Alexander understood Gingrich was using GOPAC for this purpose (see documents below).

In addition to the ethics charges pending against Gingrich, the Federal Election Commission is suing GOPAC for evading campaign finance laws. Among the evidence the FEC has presented in U.S. District Court is a leaked list of major GOPAC donors annotated by Mother Jones. The list includes many donors who appear to have received political paybacks. (For details on yet another Gingrich organization through which donors may be trying to buy influence, see Reading between the lines.)

To show that the speaker of the House is not above the law, the Ethics Committee must appoint an independent, outside counsel, and must place no limits on the scope of the investigation. Specifically, the counsel needs to get a complete accounting of all the money Gingrich's various enterprises took in and spent. Anything less will open the Ethics Committee to charges of a cover-up.

Under Gingrich's control, GOPAC refused to release its finances, claiming it funded mostly local and state campaigns and therefore didn't need to comply with federal laws. But a leaked 1986 correspondence between Gingrich, then-Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, and Alexander fundraiser Ted Welch suggests otherwise:

From Newt Gingrich to Ted Welch:

"It's our job to help our party to become competitive in the additional districts it will take to allow us to capture a majority in the U.S. House--some 50 in all. We work in conjunction with the National Congressional Committee, and our program has the hearty endorsement of President Reagan and other Republican leaders." --Newt Gingrich

From Lamar Alexander to Newt Gingrich:

"This suggestion is that you are now busy electing congressmen, instead of [state] legislators.... The last thing we need is another operation promoting senators and congressmen." --Lamar Alexander

Click on the above letters to see the full-sized, scanned image of each.

Want more on Newt? Check out Newt-O-Rama. It contains links to all our stuff on our favorite Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. For more on Lamar Alexander's presidential bid, or for news on any candidate, visit The Race for the White House.

See Hot!Media for more resources.