The story is the same virtually everywhere Gingrich goes: a political speech here, a book-signing there — often in the same place. And Gingrich isn’t just selling one book. He has produced nonfiction, novels and documentary movies, and his wife, Callista, recently wrote a children’s book that she sells just about everywhere they go.
Their activities raise two appearances, both unsavory: that Gingrich is using his presidential bid to make money, and that he is using his business to juice his campaign. And although there is agreement that Gingrich is following the law, there remains a perception, in part because of how much money his businesses have earned him over the years, that what he’s doing isn’t quite right.
“Gingrich has a history of skating close to the line when it comes to the use of political money, and he’s gotten in trouble in the past,” said Fred Wertheimer, a lawyer with the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21. “Whether he’s close to the line or over the line here is an open question.”
Gingrich is hardly the first politician to sell a book on the trail. But federal law prohibits candidates from using campaign resources to profit personally or from using corporate funds to subsidize a campaign.
Adhering to the law is tricky: In that Naples ballroom, assistants from the campaign and the business mingled to manage the crowd and the candidate. More than 800 supporters had come out to an event promoted and organized by the campaign.
Because of the sheer quantity of titles Gingrich has produced, few politicians have intertwined authorship with politics in quite the manner he has, and few have tested the law quite as directly as he is doing.
Gingrich was scrutinized nearly 20 years ago for a book deal he made shortly after becoming speaker of the House that featured the creation of a limited partnership, financed by Republican donors, to cover the book’s publicity costs. That scrutiny came not long after Gingrich helped bring down a predecessor, Democrat Jim Wright, by calling attention to a questionable book deal.
To make matters more complicated, federal election law is murky. There is widespread agreement that, without blocking book sales altogether, it is virtually impossible to adhere to the spirit of the law, which is to prevent either the campaign or the business from benefiting from the other.
“That tension is what makes it so important to be meticulous,” said Stefan Passantino, one of Gingrich’s lawyers. “We fully expect him to be criticized for this. It’s the nature of running for the highest office as Newt Gingrich.”