“I didn’t pay a fine; I paid the cost of going through the process of determining [a letter submitted to the ethics committee] was wrong.” – Newt Gingrich in Tampa, Fla., presidential debate, Jan. 23, 2012
In addition to receiving a reprimand, Gingrich agreed to pay $300,000 to cover part of the cost of the committee’s investigation.
Gingrich insists it was not a fine, and the committee never uses the word “fine” in its report. But the report makes clear the $300,000 was intended as extra punishment, not just as a compensatory payment.
According to the report, the panel included a financial element to Gingrich’s punishment for two reasons. The committee wanted to hold Gingrich accountable for the extra work and investigation required because of the false and unreliable letters submitted to the panel.
But the $300,000 payment was also meant to demonstrate that Gingrich’s punishment was more than just a reprimand.
In the hierarchy of ethics punishments, the penalties run from fine, to reprimand, to censure, to expulsion.
“Under the rules of the committee, a reprimand is the appropriate sanction for a serious violation of house rules and a censure is appropriate for a more serious violation,” the report says. “It was the opinion of the subcommittee that this matter fell somewhere in between.”
A reprimand alone would not be enough, but a censure would be too much, the committee concluded. So the members decided to make the punishment a reprimand plus $300,000.
“The $300,000 penalty, I believe, speaks eloquently to the American people who may not know the weight of one of our sanctions or another, but they understand $300,000,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D) of California, who served as one of four members of the investigation subcommittee in the Gingrich probe.
As to whether the payment is a fine, under House rules a fine is an appropriate sanction when a violation is committed for personal enrichment. There is no evidence or allegation in the committee report that Gingrich was seeking a personal financial benefit.