WASHINGTON -- The idea of forcing House Speaker Newt Gingrich to personally pay for his ethical misdeeds -- an unusual punishment that could cost him $300,000 -- came not from a Democrat but from a fellow Republican.
In an interview yesterday, Rep. Steven H. Schiff of New Mexico said he suggested such a penalty during a meeting of the four-member ethics subcommittee that investigated the Gingrich case.
"I hate to say it," Schiff said. "I believe I came up with the idea of something of a monetary nature."
Last month, the subcommittee determined that Gingrich should have consulted a tax lawyer to avoid the improper use of charitable donations to pay for college courses that served as Republican recruiting tools. The panel also found that Gingrich gave it false information when questioned about the matter.
The subcommittee recommended that Gingrich be reprimanded. But because he is the most powerful figure in the House, panel members thought he should be held to a higher standard and that there should be some additional punishment, Schiff said.
"He holds a unique position," said Schiff, an Albuquerque lawyer who has a reputation among colleagues for following his conscience. "He's simply not just a member of the House."
Schiff said he suggested a financial penalty, and other members responded favorably.
The idea, he said, was eventually recognized by the subcommittee as a "cost assessment" to reimburse taxpayers for the extra time it took to investigate the case because of Gingrich's inaccurate statements.
The three other panel members -- Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore and Nancy Pelosi of California, both Democrats, and Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida, a Republican -- have said they do not remember whose idea it was to impose a financial penalty.
Cardin has said the purpose was to show that Gingrich's offenses deserved more than a reprimand, though less than a "censure," which almost certainly would have cost him the speaker's job.
Schiff said he could not recall how the panel settled on the $300,000 figure. Cardin has said that the figure reflected half the cost of the investigation.
The question of just how Gingrich would pay the fine -- with his own money, with campaign funds, a legal defense fund or through some combination -- has stirred lively debate.
His attorney, J. Randolph Evans, says Gingrich will decide in the next two weeks.
Schiff said he was concerned that the $300,000 penalty might be too onerous for Gingrich and thought the panel should research his assets before requiring that he pay it out of his own pocket.
But no such review was ever performed, Schiff said, and the panel left the source of the money to Gingrich's discretion.
Pub Date: 1/23/97