Newt Inc.

NEWT INC…. After disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) launches his presidential campaign, one of the subjects I’m eager to hear about is how he’s spent his days the last 13 years.

Gingrich, you’ll recall, was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace way back in 1998, after his fellow Republicans decided they no longer had use for his “leadership.” Thirteen years later, Gingrich hasn’t held or sought public office at any level. What does he do all day?

Apparently, ol’ Newt tends to a shady financial empire.

Dallas businesswoman Dawn Rizos received the unexpected invitation by fax: Come to a “private dinner” with Newt Gingrich in Washington, where you will be named an “entrepreneur of the year.”

The catch: Rizos had to pay a $5,000 membership fee to Gingrich’s group, American Solutions for Winning the Future, to get the award.

Gingrich, a former House speaker, media pundit and possible Republican presidential candidate, knows how to bring in money – lots of money.

But his hard-sell tactics can sometimes go awry. It turned out that Rizos owns an upscale nude-dancing club. When Gingrich’s group found out, it canceled the 2009 award and returned the money.

I can’t imagine why Gingrich would be prude about this; it’s not like he’s lived a life of virtue.

In any case, the “entrepreneur of the year” scam appears to be part of an elaborate network of Gingrich-related enterprises. The former Speaker, plagued by ethics scandals during his congressional tenure, hasn’t actually held a day job at any point for 13 years, but he has an advocacy group, American Solutions, that raises an enormous amount of money, though it’s hard to point to any meaningful work the organization has done lately.

It’s accompanied by Gingrich’s consulting firm, media company, and religious nonprofit group, though, again, it’s not at all clear if any of these entities do actual work. For that matter, Newt has a constant stream of books coming out — he’s released four books in just the past year — though it’s unlikely he’s written them all.

If it sounds to you like this vast enterprise is a little sketchy, you’re not the only one who thinks so.

[C]onsumer advocates and some disgruntled donors have raised questions over the years about Gingrich’s seeming penchant for aggressive tactics, including the heavy use of fundraising polls, blast-faxes and other techniques considered unsavory or even predatory by philanthropy groups.

In one typical example in 2009, American Solutions blast-faxed an unknown number of potential donors with a pitch to have their names included in a newspaper ad bashing the Obama administration. (At least one fax went to a Democrat, who leaked it to Politico.)

According to complaints on consumer-focused Web sites, some American Solutions calls begin with slanted polling questions before proceeding to a request for money. The tactic, known as “fundraising under the guise of research,” or frugging, is discouraged as unethical by trade groups such as the Marketing Research Association.

American Solutions also has drawn criticism because it spends nearly $2 on fundraising for every $3 it brings in — about twice the figure for many nonprofit groups, experts said.

How aggressive is Gingrich’s fundraising schemes? Just last month, the strip-club owner Gingrich offered to sell the “entrepreneur of the year” award to received yet another pitch. “Will you enclose a special year-end contribution of $1,000, or even as much as $2,000, to American Solutions, Ms. Rizos?” it asked.