On September 10—hours before President Barack Obama delivered a primetime White House speech on Syria—former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who was in his second day as cohost of CNN's revived Crossfire, circulated a dire fundraising email on behalf of the American Legacy Political Action Committee, which he and his wife, Callista, founded and now serve as honorary co-chairs. "The current debate regarding a strike against Syria is a classic Washington distraction," Gingrich huffed, calling the president's proposed retaliatory attack for the regime's use of chemical weapons "insignificant" and "largely symbolic." He declared that a "brief bombing campaign" would do nothing, while other issues—the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the spread of radical Islam, and cuts in US military spending—will "fall to the wayside." Gingrich asked recipients to join him in opposing Obama's threatened strike against Bashar al-Assad and urged them "to donate to American Legacy PAC today to help stop our nation from engaging in a costly endeavor that would result in few beneficial outcomes."
There was one problem with this pitch: American Legacy was doing little, if anything, to oppose possible military intervention against Syria. The PAC's website notes that it exists to support federal candidates who share conservative values. The money raised by this email would not directly finance organizing aimed at thwarting Obama's plan. And there was another problem: This PAC, founded in 2010 and fronted by Gingrich, bags a lot of money from conservative donors, but little of this cash reaches candidates. During the 2012 election cycle, the group took in $515,321—most of it from donors contributing less than $200—and it doled out a measly $9,000 to seven Republican candidates, including Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Virginia Senate candidate George Allen, and Gingrich himself.
In the current election cycle, according to federal disclosure reports and recent PAC emails, American Legacy PAC has raised $1.4 million, as of July 15. But so far it has given only $27,500, or 1 percent, of its haul to five candidates—among them Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). American Legacy also transferred $500 to a committee created partly to retire the debt from Gingrich's failed 2012 presidential bid.
R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the PAC who also was a spokesman for Gingrich's 2012 effort, says there's an explanation for the large discrepancy between funds gathered and contributions dispersed: The PAC is building up its mailing list in preparation for the coming election year, when it intends to distribute big bucks to worthy conservative contenders. Given the group's dismal 2012 record—distributing 1.7 percent of its contributions to candidates—Hammond's assertion warrants skepticism. Meanwhile, most of the money flowing into American Legacy PAC is benefiting vendors and consultants who have long been associated with Gingrich.