Ire of Newt
As allegations of ethical misconduct by House Speaker Newt Gingrich continue to mount, prominent Colorado Republicans once again find themselves ensnared in the embarrassing fray.
Familiar names such as Bo Callaway, Kay Riddle, June Weiss and Glenn Jones keep popping up as both the House Ethics Committee and its newly appointed special counsel, James M. Cole, investigate charges that Gingrich violated House ethics rules, federal campaign finance regulations and now tax law.
Those behind the House complaints charge that Gingrich built a national Republican propaganda machine by misusing a system of nonprofit think tanks and tax-exempt charities. As Westword reported last year ("Newt's Local Link," December 20), a Colorado charity set up by Callaway helped funnel tens of thousands of dollars from GOPAC, Gingrich's national Republican political action committee, to a pair of partisan cable shows. That local charity, the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation (ALOF), originally was founded to fund high school speech contests.
It's a maneuver that infuriates Colorado congresswoman Pat Schroeder, a Democrat. "These guys have no shame," says Schroeder. "Using a youth charity as a front for campaign charity is about as low as it gets. What's next, stealing money from the poor box? Shoplifting at the Salvation Army?"
Callaway's ALOF is named both in subpoenas issued February 27 by Cole and in a list of charges levied January 31 by five House members, including Schroeder. Several of Cole's subpoenas demand that institutions with connections to Gingrich, such as Georgia's Kennesaw College and the Progress and Freedom Foundation, produce any documents in their possession containing even the merest mention of ALOF. The January 31 House complaint alleges that GOPAC used Callaway's nonprofit "to fund a series of television programs aimed at recruiting partisan political activists." According to that scenario, GOPAC essentially succeeded in getting taxpayers--Democrats and Republicans alike--to pay to further the GOP.
Five former high-ranking members of the Colorado Republican Party formed ALOF in 1984: Crested Butte ski-area owner and then-party chairman Howard "Bo" Callaway; party vice-chair Mindy Meiklejohn; party secretary Carol Beam, party executive director Kay Riddle and the state's National Republican Committee representative, Hal Krause. As part of the incorporation process, the group swore the nonprofit had "educational purposes" only and specifically promised not to use it for political or partisan aims.
Krause, now president of the Crestcom videotape franchise company, insists that ALOF fulfilled its goal of providing educational opportunities--at least in the beginning. "We established a program called the Land of Opportunity Speaking Competition for kids just out of high school," he says. But Krause left ALOF in 1986, when he resigned his committee post.
And ALOF's later years were quite different. Business records from both GOPAC and ALOF show that by the early 1990s, the charity was being used to produce two conservative cable television shows, the American Citizens Television Network and the American Opportunities Workshop. Both shows, according to a GOPAC business plan, were designed to address GOPAC's need for "a bigger microphone."
In order to pay for that "bigger microphone," documents show, GOPAC gave more than $43,000 to ALOF in 1993 (almost all of its budget for that year) and forwarded $45,000 in loans to the charity, which were apparently never paid back. The exchange was eased by the fact that members of the crew that founded ALOF were also key players in GOPAC: Callaway was GOPAC's chair, and Riddle was the organization's executive director. June Weiss, having left her position as the Colorado Republican Party's finance director, was serving as GOPAC's finance director and simultaneously signing checks for ALOF.
Now all that cozy coupling has breathed new life into the dwindling Gingrich investigations. And as a result, some of Colorado's most prominent politicos are finding themselves under a microscope.
First, there's Callaway, who, while testifying last summer before the Federal Election Commission, denied that GOPAC ever gave money to his charity. Then there's Riddle, who, as executive director of both GOPAC and ALOF, oversaw the money transfer between the organizations. (Riddle didn't return phone calls from Westword; when questioned about the checks last year, she asked, "Why do you care?") And there's Weiss, who, according to Callaway's FEC testimony, raised money on behalf of both GOPAC and ALOF.
In addition, according to GOPAC's own reports to the FEC, Weiss was paid more than $60,000 by GOPAC over a six-month period in 1992 when she was not working for the group. At the time, Weiss was doing "volunteer" work as the Colorado finance chair for George Bush's re-election campaign. Weiss denies any impropriety, calling the payroll disbursement a "personal arrangement."
If Cole's investigation continues on its present course, Weiss and the other ALOF boardmembers could be called before Congress to testify. But none of the local players seems particularly worried about the stepped-up scrutiny. A major reason for their level of comfort is a decision handed down late last month by a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C. In that case, which the FEC filed against GOPAC for alleged violations of election law, the court granted summary judgment to GOPAC, effectively squashing the FEC's efforts.
Given that ruling, Calloway's nothing but annoyed by the ongoing hoopla. "It's ludicrous," he says. "They kick and stab at GOPAC on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and then when the FEC loses their case against us, they put it in small print on page 55." When questioned about the apparent discrepancy in his testimony before the FEC and the documented evidence now being revealed about ALOF's activities, Callaway says, "It doesn't matter. It's perfectly legal for GOPAC to give money to a tax-exempt organization."
Meanwhile, a Coloradan with no ties to ALOF has also been dragged into the spotlight. Cable TV magnate Glenn Jones first surfaced in the FEC case against GOPAC because of his unreported donation of $200,000 of free air time to Gingrich's college course, "Renewing American Civilization." Now Jones, who declared himself "vindicated" after the judge's ruling in that case, is again a figure in the ongoing investigation. This month his cable company, Jones Intercable, was named in a number of Cole's subpoenas.
Jones did not return Westword's phone calls.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.