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Convicted donor to host Gingrich

Seattle businessman, under house arrest, plans GOP picnic

By Associated Press, 05/07/98

ASHINGTON - House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who regularly assails Democrats for fund-raising abuses, will be the main attraction at a picnic underwritten by a businessman just convicted of making illegal donations.

The Washington state GOP event will be at an island estate where Seattle businessman Thomas Stewart is serving 60 days of home detention for his conviction on misdemeanor federal charges.

Stewart agreed to pay almost $5 million this spring as part of a plea bargain - the third largest fine ever for federal election-law violations.

''I don't think Newt Gingrich would come if there was a concern about it,'' said Washington state GOP chairman Dale Foreman, who confirmed the speaker was committed to be keynote for the Aug. 22 picnic for King County Republicans.

Stewart, the Washington GOP's largest donor, has played host for the annual event for several years. It has drawn prominent Republicans as keynoters, including former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp in 1996 and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, last year.

''It's really been a great opportunity for grass-roots people to come and meet national figures without having to pay anything,'' Foreman explained.

A spokesman for Gingrich, Mike Shields, said that while there was a commitment to attend, ''for things that far off, things are always tentative.''

For Democrats who have endured months of Gingrich's attacks on their fund-raising troubles from the 1996 election campaign, the disclosure provided an opportunity to fire back.

''I find it outrageous that Gingrich would pay homage to a convicted money launderer,'' said Paul Berendt, the Washington state Democratic Party chairman. ''I think Gingrich is being hypocritical to go after President Clinton on ethics when he turns around and agrees to go to the house of a man currently under house arrest.''

Gingrich once called Democratic fund-raising practices in the 1996 campaign ''the largest scheme of illegality and illegitimacy, I think, in the history of presidential campaigns.''

''This is not jaywalking. ... This is apparently millions of dollars in directly, deliberately laundered money,'' the speaker declared last fall.

Stewart, chief executive officer of Services Group of America, a billion-dollar corporation, and another executive pleaded guilty in March to funneling $100,000 through employees to the company's political action committee and congressional campaigns between 1990 and 1996.

Disguising donations in the name of others to get around federal donation limits is illegal.

Steve Boyer, a spokesman for Stewart's company, said his boss's home detention ends May 26.

This story ran on page A03 of the Boston Globe on 05/07/98.
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

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