IRE/NICAR Tipsheet #360
Some Tips on Backgrounding a Member of Congress
By: Gary Cohen, U.S. News and World Report
In preparing our book "The Quotation of Speaker Newt" ($5.95-available at bookstores everywhere) we were given the mandate to find obscure quotes by Gingrich not found in a typical Nexis database. Even though Gingrich is an easy target, the same techniques can apply to every member of Congress.
The single best source for speeches are the back issues of the Congressional Record. The Record contains a verbatim transcript on the floor of the House and the Senate as well as a section in the back for extended remarks. By scanning the extended remarks you find everything from members honoring their home district little league teams to ideas to quarantine people with AIDS. The record is published daily with a separate index every month. In researching NEWT, we found an unsuccessful bill he sponsored in 1981 called the "National Space and Aeronautics Policy Act-Government of Space Territories" which sets forth provisions for "government of space territories, including constitutional protections, the right to self-government and the admission to statehood." Maybe this could have been called the Contract with Aliens. If you write about something you have found in the Congressional Record, it is important to make the differentiation of whether something actually said on the floor or added into record later.
A lucky break on the Gingrich book led to an archives at the college where he taught which kept every news clip, speech and direct mail piece from his unsuccessful 1974 and 1976 House races. There is even a photograph of Newt standing in front of a Winnebago with a hand-painted sign labeled "Future Congressional Office." There was also a roster of every campaign workers and contributor, providing many leads for interviews. While not everyone sets up an archive at their college with the intention they are going to be Speaker of the House some day, the campaign manager might have all the memorabilia in their basement. You can find their name on the front page of the Federal Election Commission Report.
One place to find unpublished quotes in Gingrichís own words were his newsletters to constituents, the Newt-O-Gram. One call to the district office yielded many of the back issues. Another place to look for long quotes are transcripts from new shows. Burrelleís News Service monitors all of the network broadcasts and many local newscasts from major markets.
Some of the best research on Gingrich was gathered by his opponents. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent researchers down to Georgia to gather all of courthouse documents-titles, deeds, and incorporation papers-and made it available to anyone who asked. Newtís opponents also kept passing on their opposition research through the years. In fact, a Wall Street Journal story last week talks about a private bill Gingrich sponsored to help a drug company on his district that coincidentally was a major contributor to his private foundation. The bill was first discovered by Gingrichís 1994 Republican primary opponent.
Every Senator and Congressman as well as most of their staff are required to fill out yearly financial disclosures forms listing all of their assets and any transactions over the past year. These are all available to the public at the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senateís offices. You can find that the Gingrichís own nine stocks held in Mrs. Gingrichís name valued between $1,000 and $15,000 each, while Senator John D. Rockefeller IVís blind trust agreements fill a three ring binder. One interesting story that broke last month was about the Chief of Staff to the Senate Finance Committee who was living in New York yet commuting to Washington three days week all using taxpayer dollars. The reporters found the receipts by scanning every item on the committeeís offices expense at the Secretary of Senateís offices.
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