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In 1984, then Colorado Republican Party Chairman Bo Callaway set up a charitable corporation ostensibly to fund speech contests for Colorado high school students. The board of the tax-exempt, and therefore supposedly nonpartisan, entity was made up of state GOP heavyweights: 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.
Now, as federal investigations shed increasing light on the actions of House Speaker Newt Gingrich in his amassing of troops for the 1994 Republican "revolution," Westword has learned that Callaway's charity--officially called the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation (ALOF)--was actually used as a conduit for money from the national Republican political action committee GOPAC (to which donations are not tax-deductible).
Riddle, who also served as GOPAC's executive director from 1987 to 1993, claims that all the money ALOF raised was spent on speech contests. But it appears that ALOF wasn't used for innocuous student contests, but to produce partisan cable television broadcasts by Washington, D.C.-based American Citizen Television. ACTV was the predecessor of Gingrich's now-famous television course "Renewing American Civilization," and it is the way "Renewing American Civilization" has been funded with tax-exempt and tax-deductible money that is under investigation by a special investigative counsel appointed by the House Ethics Committee.
Riddle says GOPAC never gave money to ALOF. But Westword has obtained copies of checks signed by Riddle and GOPAC financial director June Weiss between August and December of 1990 that transferred $45,000 from GOPAC to ALOF.
When asked about the checks, Riddle replies, "Why do you care?" And then, after a pause, she adds, "You'll have to talk to someone else" and hangs up.
Weiss, who now makes her living advising nonprofits on financial issues, admits Callaway directed that money be given from both GOPAC and the Atlanta-based Callaway Foundation to ALOF to fund the ACTV broadcasts. (It's not known how much money ALOF raised or funneled to other groups during its nine years of existence.)
"ACTV didn't fit the mission of the Callaway Foundation," explains Weiss, also the former financial director of the Colorado Republican Party. And even if ACTV had nothing to do with speech contests for Colorado high school students, Weiss says, the "educational" nature of the TV productions was closer to ALOF's goal. The Callaway Foundation donated $10,000 in 1991, and again in 1992, to ALOF. Using that money, plus at least $45,000 from GOPAC, ACTV--a national television workshop geared to "encouraging citizen participation in the democratic process" but "not about top-down solutions from Washington"--produced broadcasts of Pete Du Pont talking about the educational choice movement and another on "The Privatization Solution." The programs were aired over religious conservative Pat Robertson's Family Channel cable network.
At the same time GOPAC began funding ACTV through ALOF, the ALOF board underwent a bit of a change. According to documents filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's office in August 1990, Callaway and Riddle remained officers and directors of the foundation, but Meiklejohn, Krause and Beam were replaced by a collection of longtime Gingrich supporters: Mrs. Terry Kohler (the Wisconsin woman and her husband are GOPAC's biggest supporters, having contributed $715,457); GOPAC attorney Dan Swillinger; Steven Hanser, a former West Georgia College professor who had known Gingrich from his early days in the history department and later became a paid GOPAC and Gingrich consultant and co-author of Gingrich's first book; and Daryl Connor, who runs a public-relations company that put Gingrich on its payroll as early as 1976 when the professor was running for Congress.
A recording reached by dialing the D.C. number for now-closed ACTV directs callers to the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a tax-exempt conservative "research" foundation started by Gingrich in 1993. The PFF board also includes ex-ALOF boardmembers Connor and Hanser. Still, Rick O'Donnell, a PFF spokesman, denies any link between ACTV, PFF and ALOF. "That's our old phone number," he admits, "but it's just a fluke. Lots of old phone numbers are used over again."
Defunct since 1993, ALOF no longer sponsors anything. But no one associated with the foundation can recall any specific speech contests it funded, either.
Mindy Meiklejohn says her recollection of the events is murky: "I think we attempted to hold the contests, but they never got off the ground." Kay Riddle doesn't remember when the speech contests took place, or where, but says they must have. "I think the first winner was a Vietnamese girl who got a lot of national attention," Riddle says. "She was invited to address the Republican National Convention." Weiss recalls the Vietnamese girl, too. "I don't remember a lot about it--Hal Krause organized all that end of it--but I know one of our winners spoke at the Republican National Convention. She was a boat person. A real success story." Callaway and Krause didn't return repeated calls from Westword.
A Vietnamese-American youngster named Van Trinh did indeed address the GOP convention in 1992, but contemporary accounts said she was the winner of an essay contest conducted by Scholastic magazine, not a speech contest sponsored by
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