1. Gingrich’s Profits From His “Personal” Mailing List:

The Washington Post’s Dan Eggen did a terrific story last week detailing how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accumulated large debts early on in his presidential campaign by, among other things, staying in pricey hotels and using hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of private jets. Much of the debt has still not been repaid, Eggen reported. One great nugget that caught my eye could use some follow-up. The Post found that $42,000 of the debt had already been paid – to “Gingrich himself” – for the purchase by his campaign of his “personal” donor and friends mailing list. Handing over a copy of a mailing list involves zero cost, which means that Gingrich – who could legally have given the list to his campaign as an in-kind contribution, according to the Post – apparently pocketed $42,000 in profit from his campaign donors and did so before paying off third-party creditors. I’d love to see a follow-up in which voters, not to mention donors, are asked how they feel about Gingrich pocketing the equivalent of more than 80 percent of the average household income of the voters he is courting.

Oh, and another thing: It has to have been one of Gingrich’s political organizations that paid for the solicitations and other work involved in compiling and maintaining the list, not the former Speaker himself. So, assuming the Post is correct that the money was paid to him personally, how did he get personal ownership of a list that is worth $42,000 every time it is loaned out – and, when he did, did he pay income tax on his receipt of this valuable asset?

2. The Candidates’ Book Deals:

I wonder if any of the Republican presidential candidates who have current books on the market – Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney – have any provisions in their publishing contracts giving them higher advances provided that they stay in the race for a certain period of time. It seems especially possible that this could be a factor in why Cain only suspended his campaign and why Bachmann is hanging on.

3. Inside Standard & Poor’s:

After ratings agency Standard & Poor’s caused a firestorm this summer by downgrading the United States’ credit rating, I kept waiting for a story about how S&P works and how much its rarely-mentioned parent company – McGraw-Hill, the education publishing and financial services giant – is involved in running S&P. Now that S&P has rocked the world economy again by issuing a credit watch on the creditworthiness of 15 European countries, I’m still waiting. Who makes these decisions? What kind of sign-off, or at least heads-up, if any, do they give the bosses at McGraw-Hill? What relationship, if any, is there between S&P’s newly-found aggressiveness – compared to its lapdog approach to rating derivatives and other toxic credit instruments leading up to the 2008/2009 crash – and McGraw-Hill’s recently announced plan to split the company into two entities?  With that in mind, this story should also provide an update on the status of the billions of dollars in suits pending against S&P and McGraw-Hill brought by plaintiffs who claim to have relied on S&P’s seal of approval when they got stuck with all that junk debt.

4. One Up, One Down:

Let’s actually learn something about “job creators” and “job killers.” Any local or national news outlet could do a weekly series profiling a person who just got a new job (as opposed to replacing someone in a position that already existed) and a person who just lost a job and who is not being replaced. In both cases, why did it happen? Did any of President Obama’s tax breaks or any aspect of the stimulus spending have any effect at all on creating the new job? Did trade policies, taxes, or regulations help kill the eliminated job? This series should painstakingly trace the chain reaction of events that boosted the fortunes of one person and reversed them for another. For example, if a plant closing caused a nearby food stand to lay off a cook, what caused the plant to close? It’s the kind of reporting that could turn the amorphous theory and rhetoric of economics into personal stories that everyone can identify with.