Gingrich Lawyers Threaten Florida TV Stations Airing "False" Attack Ads; They Aren't False

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A political action committee opposing Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich just bought $3.6 million in Florida TV advertisements, according to the New York Times, and it appears the best response Gingrich can muster is something along the lines of, "Hey guys, knock it off. That's not nice."

The group, called "Restore Our Future," backs Mitt Romney and has already spent millions of dollars on attack ads accusing Gingrich of everything from being friends with Nancy Pelosi to trying to get the government to pay for abortions. The bit Gingrich takes exception to, however, is a little 7-second segment in the middle of an ad that claims Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations as speaker of the House. (Spoiler alert: He was.)

Gingrich's lawyers sent letters to dozens of television stations in primary states, threatening legal action if they aired the ads, according to Politico. They wrote to the stations that "any statement or suggestion of a 'fine' is false. Even a cursory review of either the Report itself or the Congressional Record ... undeniably establish the falsity of this statement."

Luckily for us, the "Report itself" is online -- and it seems like everyone but congressional rulebook nerds would say Gingrich got his ass fined.

You can check out the super-exciting details for yourself, but the investigative subcommittee basically found that Gingrich didn't have enough money to pay for distribution of a pro-Republican TV program he put together, so he used a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization -- which, by definition, isn't allowed to get involved in anything political -- to solicit money that donors could deduct from their taxes. He made a similar move to distribute footage from a course he taught at Kennesaw State College that was so controversial it got all elected officials banned from teaching at Georgia universities.

"In both instances," the report's conclusion reads, "there was an effort to have the material appear to be non-partisan on its face, yet serve as a partisan, political message for the purpose of building the Republican Party."

The subcommittee also found the letters of explanation Gingrich submitted to it were "very troubling" because they didn't actually explain anything; Gingrich blamed his lawyers and said he didn't realize what was going on.

In the end, the committee decided that "over a number of years and in a number of situations, Mr. Gingrich showed a disregard and lack of respect for the standards of conduct that applied to his activities," and it recommended the House reprimand him.

And then, about two-thirds of the way down in the conclusion, we get this special morsel:

Under the Rules of the Committee, a reprimand is the appropriate sanction for a serious violation of House Rules and a censure is appropriate for a more serious violation of House Rules. ... It was the opinion of the Subcommittee that this matter fell somewhere in between. Accordingly, the Subcommittee and the Special Counsel recommend that the appropriate sanction should be a reprimand and a payment reimbursing the House for some of the costs of the investigation in the amount of $300,000. Mr. Gingrich has agreed that this is the appropriate sanction in this matter.

So when Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Monday that the Congressional Record "clearly states that the Speaker was reimbursing the committee for an investigation caused by a lawyer error," he was mischaracterizing pretty much every aspect of the situation. The investigation was caused not by a lawyer error, but by Gingrich blatantly violating House rules -- the actual "lawyer error" referenced in the investigation was Gingrich blaming his counsel for letters full of inaccuracies that he personally signed his name to.

And this "reimbursement" wasn't Gingrich just being nice -- he was ordered to do it by a vote of 395 to 28 because a regular reprimand wasn't enough. Washington Post coverage of the event very clearly defines it as an "unprecedented $300,000 penalty."

The issue, it seems, is that a "fine" is defined very specifically in the House rules, so while most people would call it a fine when Congress says "give us enough money to pay for the time we wasted while you let your lawyers bullshit us into cluelessness," Congress itself calls it a reimbursement. We'll have to wait and see what the super PACS are allowed to call it.

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