A Washington, D.C. watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission Monday accusing Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich of getting improper financial support from his movie production company.
The complaint, by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), alleges that Gingrich Productions spent money on events -- billed as movie screenings -- that were in fact aimed at bolstering his campaign. And it claims the campaign paid Gingrich himself $42,000 for a mailing list that was actually supplied by the candidate's film company. Both allegations would, if proven, amount to improper corporate support for his political campaign.
"We based our complaint on ABC News and Washington Post stories about these joint events and they seem to be for a dual purpose, for promoting his candidacy and promoting books," said Melanie Sloan, who is CREW's executive director. Campaign finance laws say that campaigns can't get aid from corporations. "Gingrich Productions is a corporation and this would violate the rule of not receiving a corporation's aid," said Sloan. "In turn, the campaign was accepting an illegal contribution."
The campaign responded swiftly to the accusations, releasing a one-sentence statement from spokesman R.C. Hammond: "If the FEC considers the complaint, they will find that the rules are being followed and published regulations are being enforced."
The complaint is the latest allegation to surface about the blending of Gingrich's vast business and charity enterprise and his efforts to generate financial support for his White House bid. In June, ABC News first reported that Gingrich had taken possession of a mailing list developed by a charity he once oversaw called Renewing American Leadership. The non-profit charity once run by Gingrich's former spokesman, Rick Tyler, spent millions of dollars to send out letters signed by Gingrich seeking contributions. The charity then provided Gingrich with the list of names of people who responded with donations.
The Gingrich campaign released a statement saying the ABC News report "did not find any activity that was not fully supported by the law."
Developing a mailing list of supporters -- especially supporters willing to write a check for the politician -- is typically a costly part of campaigning, and to the extent those costs were defrayed by either Gingrich's business or his charity, that would be a problem, Sloan said.
"The FEC needs to investigate this," she said. "What they should do is investigate and get some answers from Gingrich and they should fine him if he's found to be in violation."