Jones-Gingrich Link Questioned

Already facing charges that he got a sweetheart book deal from Rupert Murdoch, House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the target of a new ethics complaint over claims that he accepted up to $200,000 in free cable TV air time to espouse his views in college lectures.

The complaint, filed by Reps. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Harry Johnston (D-Fla.), center on Denver-based Jones Intercable’s decision to grant Gingrich 20 hours of free air time on its Mind Extension University, a learning series available on Jones’ cable systems.

The complaint claims that Jones founder Glenn Jones has “substantial interests before the U.S. Congress, including telecommunications reform, cable deregulation and the takeover of the Public Broadcasting System.”

The Ethics in Government Act prohibits members of Congress from soliciting or accepting gifts or “anything of value” from someone seeking favorable legislation from Congress.

The complaint claims Gingrich “solicited and/or accepted a gift, free cable time, valued at $150,000 to $200,000, from an individual (Jones) with a substantial interest in legislation before Congress.”

Jones and the rest of the cable industry are pressing for relief from tough FCC rate regulations, and Gingrich is believed to be sympathetic to the cablers’ view. Moreover, after Gingrich announced plans to cut all federal funding for public TV and radio, Glenn Jones was quoted as saying his company was “interested in taking over” PBS.

A Gingrich spokesman said the three Democrats who filed the ethics complaint are guilty of “malicious imbecility.”

Jones spokesman Jim Carlson called the ethics charge “inaccurate, misleading and erroneous.” Carlson claimed Mind Extension’s deal is with Reinhardt College, where Gingrich teaches. “We don’t charge any of our participating institutions any money to be on our network,” said Carlson. Thus, he said, “free” air time charges were “wholly invented out of thin air.”

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