Wannabe Teabagger-in-Chief Newt Gingrich in Hot Water over $4 Million in Private Flights
Newt Gingrch’s American Solutions has been hailed by right wing bloggers like Soren Dayton and Matt Lewis as "the conservative MoveOn," and they are playing a big organizational role in tomorrow’s Tea Parties. But according to IRS documents filed by American Solutions, they have paid out over $4 million in the past two years to Moby Dick Airways, a company that charters private planes for Presidential candidates and the RNC — something MoveOn has never done.
Ironically, Newt has been chosen by the organizers of the the New York Tea Party to speak on the topic of "fiscal responsibility."
According to OpenSecrets, there are 14508 contribution records for American Solutions in 2008. Though much has been made of Newt’s billionaire boys’ club funders, they comprise only a handful of the organization’s donors. Most of the people who gave did so in much more modest amounts — their reports list far more retired, self-employed or unemployed people giving $100 or $200. Cabinet makers, lawn care professionals, truckers and other small business owners far outnumber Las Vegas hotel magnates. Of the $25,489,668 in contributions received, $7,343,986 is simply listed as "aggregate below the threshold," which means donations under $200 that don’t have to be broken out (though if you look at he list, many more donations under $200 are listed).
So why did Newt need to pay 15% of the organization’s income to a company that charters private planes? Newt wasn’t a Presidential candidate at the time — at least not officially, though he spent $90,000 in March 2007 "crisscrossing the country aboard the charters of Moby Dick Airways." There were questions at the time as to whether Newt could legally use money raised by American Solutions for a presidential bid. He wrote a soul-wrenching letter to the American Solutions list in October 2008, saying that the corset of McCain-Feingold was too tight for him, and forced him to choose between running American Solutions and running for President. Bob Bauer scoffed at the notion, saying Newt "made a political decision and hit upon a face-saving explanation," but by the time 2008 rolled around, it’s indisputable that Newt was not running for President.
Nonetheless, OpenSecrets reports that American Solutions paid $3,360,346 to Moby Dick during 2008.
Newt is on record as having a strong opposition to the use of private planes. He went on Hannity & Colmes in 2008 to spread the false story that Nancy Pelosi’s use of a private jet was unprecedented, and said that Dennis Hastert "did not get a private plane. Hastert most certainly did have the use of a private plane, but Gingrich’s word as former Speaker of the House carried tremendous weight with Fox viewers. He enthusiastically chimed in with Sean Hannity to bash "Princess Pelosi," saying "you do not need to have a personal jet to run around."
On their contributions page, it says "American Solutions is here to serve as your voice in the political process." Did the people who gave this money think they were donating so Newt and Company could jet around on private planes?
Here’s Newt on the subject of "private planes" with Alan Colmes:
COLMES: On the private plane for Nancy Pelosi: She was advised after 9-11, as I understand it, for security reasons, to — that she needed to have the private plane.
GINGRICH: That’s —
COLMES: That’s why she has it —
GINGRICH: That is just —
COLMES: — based on what happened after 9-11.
GINGRICH: That’s baloney. That is just baloney. Denny Hastert did not get a private plane. There’s no reason for anyone but the president and vice president of the United States to have that level of security.
COLMES: But she was taking advice to do this. She didn’t decide to do it. She was advised that this would be the safest way for her to travel.
HANNITY: She asked for a bigger plane.
COLMES: That’s what happened.
GINGRICH: Alan, if you believe that, I want to introduce you to Mr. Martyr who may have a little bit of his phony stock left, because I’m sure he’d like to sell it to you.
Their donation page says that "American Solutions is here to serve as your voice in the political process." But when Gingrich was criticizing Nancy Pelosi for flying in a private plane, he said "it is fundamentally wrong because it distances a member of the House of Representatives from the public they serve."
Newt evidently believes that it’s possible for him to fly on private planes and still "serve" without suffering such distance.
I asked Ilyse Hogue, Communications Director of MoveOn, if this kind of expense for luxury transportation was normal for an organization like theirs. She said "MoveOn members donate an average of $42 in tough economic times to support a vision of progressive change. With millions of members invested in our campaigns to get health care, jobs, and accountability from our elected officials, we keep our overhead low and our results high. Most MoveOn staff don’t even have a private office outside their homes; forget about private planes"
I contacted Dan Kotman, Press Secretary of American Solutions for a comment, but he hasn’t responded.