The book-selling, professional marketing and all-purpose political organization known as "Newt 2012" is being pestered by the Federal Election Commission.
Newt 2012, a multimillion-dollar enterprise that has also fielded a candidate, Newt Gingrich, for the Republican presidential nomination, is not about to be bogged down by government bureaucrats. Rather than file the campaign finance documents required of every presidential campaign, Newt 2012 has basically told the FEC to stuff it.
As the Washington Times reported last week, the Gingrich campaign has a tendency to generalize when filing finance disclosure statements, citing, for example, more than $88,000 in reimbursements to Newt Gingrich in January for ... "travel." The expense was part of what the Times characterized as "$220,000 in mystery money" paid to top Gingrich staff. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the Gingrich-allied super-PAC Winning Our Future has also been paying very impressive fees to the long-time Gingrich aides who run the super-PAC.
The exchange of letters between the FEC and Gingrich campaign treasurer Lisa Lisker offers a compelling exhibit of both the FEC's impotence and the contempt with which political professionals regard it. On Sept. 22, 2011, the commission sent Lisker a letter pointing out the campaign's failure to follow the law and telling her -- in bold text -- that a failure to respond to the letter by Oct. 27 "could result in an audit or enforcement action."
You can gauge the level of terror this threat instilled by the date of Lisker's casual, contemptuous, two-paragraph reply: Nov. 29. Lisker replied that the Gingrich campaign had concluded that "no further itemization is required" for the expenses and so none was forthcoming. Having informed the commission that she could not care less about its preoccupation with campaign finance details, Lisker concluded, "Thank you for bringing these items to our attention."
The FEC sent Lisker another letter on Feb. 17 requesting "information essential to full public disclosure of your federal election campaign finances." Any bets on when the Gingrich campaign will reply? How about wagers on when the FEC might get around to an "enforcement action"?
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)