Earlier versions of this story incorrectly described part of a 1997 House ethics reprimand of Gingrich. This version has been corrected.
Newt Gingrich's financial empire shows his fundraising prowess
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 10:08 AM
Dallas businesswoman Dawn Rizos received the unexpected invitation by fax: Come to a "private dinner" with Newt Gingrich in Washington, where you will be named an "entrepreneur of the year."
The catch: Rizos had to pay a $5,000 membership fee to Gingrich's group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, to get the award.
Gingrich, a former House speaker, media pundit and possible Republican presidential candidate, knows how to bring in money - lots of money.
But his hard-sell tactics can sometimes go awry. It turned out that Rizos owns an upscale nude-dancing club. When Gingrich's group found out, it canceled the 2009 award and returned the money.
"We were very keen to do this; it seemed like a fun hand-shaker-type thing," said Michael Precker, a spokesman for Rizos's club, the Lodge. "I guess it shows how you raise money in Washington."
That brief interaction offers a telling glimpse into the workings of Newt Inc., a financial empire that could prove crucial in a bid for the White House.
Gingrich, who says he will announce a decision this month, has outraised Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and every other potential GOP candidate with a political committee, according to a Washington Post analysis. His main advocacy group, American Solutions, ranks as the largest money-making machine of its kind in the country, collecting more than $52 million in its first four years - though nearly two-thirds of that went to fundraising expenses that some experts describe as unusually high.
And that doesn't count Gingrich's vast constellation of other endeavors, including a consulting firm (Gingrich Group), a media company (Gingrich Productions), a Web portal (Newt.org), a religious nonprofit group (Renewing American Leadership) and a bilingual Hispanic news service (the Americano).
The indefatigable former congressman, 67, has written or co-written more than two dozen books, including four released in the past year. He's also a Fox News analyst and a fixture at events such as last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, where he bounded onstage to the '80s hit "Eye of the Tiger."
Aides and others close to Gingrich say that his business ventures are widely mischaracterized by political opponents and that they adhere to the ethical norms followed by advocacy and nonprofit groups. What's more, they say, his entrepreneurial zeal and network of contacts would serve him well in a run for the White House.
"I don't know anyone else like him," said Rick Tyler, Gingrich's longtime aide and spokesman. "There is no other political figure who has been out of office for 10 years who has maintained such a presence and name recognition. It's clearly a plus."
Some Republicans, however, see Gingrich's merchandising juggernaut as a potential drawback.