Newt delays pay on book deal

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Newt Gingrich's king's ransom of a Christmas present has vanished. Eight days ago, word emerged he was to receive a $4.5m (£2.8m) book advance. Yesterday, bowing to criticism from Democrats and his own party alike, a chastened but defiant House Sp eaker-elect announced he would write first and collect the royalties later.

In a letter to fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill, and then in a news conference, Mr Gingrich defended his deal with HarperCollins, the New York publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch, as a "legitimate proposal" which did not breach Congressional ethics rules.

But, he said, to avoid "negative publicity" and the impression he was cashing in on his new celebrity, he would take only a nominal $1 advance and wait for proceeds from whatever sales his literary endeavours might achieve.

Under the draft agreement, Mr Gingrich is to write two books. One, To Renew America, sets out his conservative philosophy and and his vision of the country's future. The other will be a collection of writings about democracy, edited and commented upon byhim. But no sooner had details leaked than a row erupted.

For Democrats, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to cast their most scathing foe in the guise of a venal hypocrite who had spent the campaign lambasting Congress for its perks and corruption - only to grasp a multi-million perk.

There were mutterings too of a sinister sweetheart deal with the Murdoch empire. After all, were not the federal authorities investigating complaints that Mr Murdoch's Fox TV network was controlled by the Australia-based News Corporation, in violation ofUS laws limiting foreign ownership of the broad casting media? Might not the Gingrich windfall have been an attempt to hasten changes in those laws? Such suggestions have been denied all round.

But the advance caused many Republicans misgivings, just when the party had captured Congress for the first time in 40 years - in part because of its promises to end "business as usual" on Capitol Hill.

The last straw was criticism from Republican Senate leader, Bob Dole, who said the deal "raised questions that need to be addressed"and was "not too popular" among his colleagues.

Despite Mr Gingrich's retreat, Democrats are unlikely to let the matter rest. David Bonior, the incoming House minority whip, said the book deal was the "tip of an iceberg".

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