By Karen Masterson and Michael Eacobacci Iii
WASHINGTON – Seven of Maryland’s eight House members voted Tuesday in favor of sanctioning House Speaker Newt Gingrich for misconduct.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, was the only Maryland representative to vote against the sanctions. He said they held the speaker to a higher standard than other congressmen.
“Members of Congress are all human,” Bartlett said in a written statement. “We need to be held to the same, highest standard of behavior.”
The sanctions include a reprimand and a $300,000 fine.
Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, who drafted the sanction language and was the top Democrat on the House ethics committee investigating Gingrich, said the vote “represented the right sanctions” for “reckless conduct.”
“Based on precedent, the speaker’s actions warranted a letter of reproval, not a reprimand,” Bartlett said. A reprimand is a more severe punishment that requires a full House vote.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, said the severity of the fine was in line with “the severity of the speaker’s actions.”
He and most other Maryland members agreed Congress should put this partisan battle behind it.
“I do not think we should dwell on it,” Wynn said.
Added Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, “It’s time for us to move ahead.”
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, voted for the sanctions despite his opposition to the fine and reprimand.
Speaking from the House floor, he defended Gingrich’s intentions and character, but said he voted for sanctions to keep the faith of the American people.
“It’s what’s good for the country,” Gilchrest said.
The sanction decision called the $300,000 a reimbursement for Gingrich misleading the ethics committee and therefore extending its investigation. Cardin said this payback satisfied some committee members who felt a reprimand did not go far enough, and others who were unwilling to agree to censure, which would have forced Gingrich to step down as speaker.
The House vote in favor of the sanctions was 395-28, with five members voting present. It concluded the committee’s two- year investigation and followed Friday’s five-and-a-half hour public airing of the facts.
Among the most egregious findings, according to Cardin and James Cole, special counsel to the committee, was Gingrich’s role in misleading the ethics committee. Gingrich wrote two letters containing “inaccurate statements,” Cole’s report said.
“Both letters were efforts by Mr. Gingrich to have the committee dismiss the complaints without further inquiry. … This matter was not resolved as expeditiously as it could have been” said Cole, “and it cost the House a substantial amount of money in order to determine the facts.”
The special counsel also found that Gingrich “recklessly” pursued a tax exemption for political purposes, a violation of IRS laws. The ethics violation came from his failure to seek adequate legal advice.
Had Gingrich sought better legal counsel, he would have been advised against setting up a tax-exempt organization to develop and disseminate partisan materials also used in college seminars at Kennesaw State College and Reinhardt College in Georgia, Cole said. Although Congress is now finished judging Gingrich’s role in violating House rules, documents used in this investigation will be sent to the IRS, which will review them for any possible violations of tax laws. -30-