Ex-Gingrich Aide Received Fishy Payments, Quit Campaign To Fix House
ABC News reported on Tuesday that Renewing American Leadership, a tax-exempt nonprofit founded by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, had funneled more than $200,000 to for-profit Gingrich Communications over the course of two years. That money, the news organization discovered, went directly to Rick Tyler, Gingrich's longtime -- but now former -- spokesperson and director of his evangelical-themed nonprofit.
ABC News was engaged for weeks in discussions with top Gingrich advisors about money from Gingrich's tax-exempt charity that went to his for-profit businesses -- known as related-party transactions -- which were never disclosed on the charity's tax forms. ABC News found evidence of the payments in a May 2011 audit commissioned by the West Virginia secretary of state's office.
Tyler, told ABC News in a series of email exchanges prior to his resignation that the charity spent no money on political activity and "did nothing to promote anyone's political career." Tyler also revealed that he personally was the beneficiary of the six-figure payments the charity made to Gingrich Communications –- money he was paid to run the charity until he began helping prepare Gingrich for a presidential bid.
Tyler's explanation made the payments seem innocuous enough. But a review of tax records for 2009 -- the most current available records -- show that Tyler actually received no salary and worked only 20 hours per week as chairman of Renewing American Leadership.
How then, to explain the payment structure? Tyler told The Huffington Post that he was paid through Gingrich Communications and not ReAL as a way of maintaining his pension and health care.
"I didn't want to lose my ability to contribute to my pension," he explained. "It was to my benefit personally that I did not have to shift around all these things."
Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, said he believed the transaction appeared to be a "dangerous precedent."
"If it isn't something that is illegal, it certainly gives the appearance of blurring the lines," he told HuffPost. "It's worrisome. It doesn't pass the smell test for me."
Working inside the Gingrich empire requires navigating a complex array of organizations, each with varying layers of tax reporting requirements. While Gingrich's charity work has declined, his vast array of nonprofits, political operations and communications firms has soared.
In the last few years, Gingrich built up a lucrative series of organizations, backed by millions in donations. Tyler had served as Gingrich's right-hand man during this period working as both director and president of Renewing American Leadership and as spokesman for Gingrich Communications.
Last week, however, at least one association ended as Tyler -- along with scores of other top aides -- quit the Gingrich campaign.
Tyler said he is currently working on replacing the siding on his house.
"I thought we should go on a cruise," he joked referencing his former boss' controversial decision to exit the campaign trail for an extended Greek island cruise -- a decision that contributed to the staff walk out. "But [my wife] wants me to fix the house."