Paying The Price Talk about ethics charges! Breaking the rules will cost Newt Gingrich $300,000. By Richard Lacayo/TIME
Newt's Day Of Deliverance But an intercepted cellular call gives him and the Democrats more ethical problems. By George J. Church/TIME
Newt's Influence Slips Away Gingrich worked the phone hard to save his job, but no matter what the outcome of the vote for Speaker, his influence is already greatly diminished. By Richard Lacayo/TIME
House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed on Dec. 21 to accept the House ethics investigative subcommittee's finding that he should have sought legal advice on the propriety of using tax-deductible donations to fund two college courses that he taught. He also admitted to providing inaccurate information to the ethics committee in two instances.
Just one month later, on Jan. 21, the full House voted 395-28 to approve the House ethics committee's punishment of a reprimand plus a $300,000 penalty. Though it allowed him to hold onto his powerful post, the outcome marked the first time a sitting speaker has been disciplined by the House.
It was all a stunning turn of events considering that, for more than two years, Gingrich steadfastly maintained that the numerous ethics complaints -- more than 70 -- launched against him by Democrats amounted to a cynical desire for revenge. It was revenge, the speaker said, for his successful crusade against former House Speaker Jim Wright, whose ethics transgressions eventually led to his resignation in 1989.
In fact, there's probably some truth to Gingrich's revenge theory. Though Gingrich has faced a steady torrent of complaints since assuming the speakership in 1994, all but two have been dismissed by the House ethics committee.
But on Dec. 6, 1995, the ethics committee agreed to appoint an outside counsel to investigate whether two college courses Gingrich taught, which he financed with tax deductible donations, had been used to further the partisan goals of GOPAC, a political action committee founded by Gingrich. Not to worry, the speaker told supporters -- the issue was simply a "technical" matter. But some 12 months later, that so-called technicality had him in hot water.