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Right Turn
Posted at 10:36 AM ET, 01/25/2012

Gingrich’s futile effort to deny he was a lobbyist

The Associated Press reports:

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich began receiving payments from Freddie Mac in 1999 under a contract that paid his consulting business $25,000 a month to work with the mortgage giant’s chief lobbyist, according to a second agreement released Tuesday night.
The contract specifically excluded lobbying services, stating “nothing herein is or shall be construed as an agreement to provide lobbying services of any kind or engage in lobbying activities.” . . . .
The second contract released Tuesday night provides more detail on the work Gingrich was hired to perform, including “serve as advisor to Freddie Mac in the areas of strategic planning and public policy.” It also called on Gingrich, who is mentioned by name in the second contract, to “engage in discussions” with Freddie Mac’s chief lobbyist and senior officers “to strategize on approaches to Freddie Mac business opportunities and challenges.”
Gingrich, who was hired to help the company reach out to Republicans, also was expected to “contribute to Freddie Mac corporate planning and business goals” and to “meet with major stakeholders of Freddie Mac.”
The contract also states that “neither The Gingrich Group nor Newt Gingrich will provide lobbying services of any kind nor participate in lobbying activities on Freddie Mac’s behalf.”

Nice try, guys. The boilerplate “I am not a lobbyist” has as much credibility as Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” It is of no legal effect and is contracted by the express terms of the contract. By providing advice and consultation to the chief lobbyist for Freddie, Gingrich almost certainly has hit the trip wire in federal law that counts as “lobbying activities” any “efforts in support of such [lobbying] contacts, including preparation or planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time of its preparation, for use in contacts and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.” What else is his consultation with Freddie’s chief lobbyist?

It is also interesting to note to whom Gingrich is reporting. In November, the New York Times reported:

[Freddie] officials said Mr. Gingrich was brought in to help Freddie Mac hone its message to conservative audiences. One person recalled that Mr. Gingrich advised them, for instance, to tell Republicans that the organization was not explicitly government-backed — and, at the time, it was not — but also not as freewheeling as Wall Street banks, occupying a responsible middle ground. . . .
Hired by the head of the mortgage company’s government affairs shop, Robert Mitchell Delk, he stayed on through 2002. In an interview with Bloomberg, Mr. Delk said Mr. Gingrich helped him devise a program on expanding home ownership that Mr. Delk then shared with White House officials under President George W. Bush.
Two other officials said that during Mr. Gingrich’s second run with the group, when he took a two-year contract starting in 2006, he addressed donors to the Fannie Mac political action committee and discussed writing an op-ed article or academic “white paper,” but never put his name on anything on Freddie’s behalf.

The Post reported in March 2004 that Delk was forced to resign “because of alleged improprieties in his political fundraising for members of Congress.”

Moreover, there is plenty of evidence of direct lobbying contacts by Gingrich himself. The Romney camp is going to town on Gingrich’s evasions, sending out a release that reads in part:

Republican Members Of Congress Say Gingrich Was A Lobbyist:
Former Rep. Jeb Bradley: “Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says he was never a lobbyist. But three US representatives, including former New Hampshire Representative Jeb Bradley, have said Gingrich did in fact lobby them – whether he met the technical definition of a lobbyist or not. Bradley told the Globe that he remembers Gingrich, in 2003, advocating in favor of the legislation that created the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit before a group of around 10 members of Congress.” (Shira Schoenberg, “Newt Gingrich Denies That His 2003 Advocacy For Medicare Expansion Was Lobbying,” Boston Globe, 12/28/11)
Rep. Jeff Flake And Former Rep. Butch Otter: “Today, the Des Moines Register reported that US Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona and former Representative Butch Otter of Idaho said Gingrich lobbied them in 2003 to vote for the Medicare prescription drug benefit program.” (Shira Schoenberg, “Newt Gingrich Denies That His 2003 Advocacy For Medicare Expansion Was Lobbying,” Boston Globe, 12/28/11)
Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave: “Former Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, now a director at the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said Gingrich called her at the height of the 2003 debate urging her to vote for the bill. ‘Newt called me to vote yes,’ Musgrave told CNN by phone on Wednesday. ‘He asked for a yes vote on a Medicare prescription drug benefit,’ she said.” (Peter Hamby, “Gingrich Urged Yes Vote On Controversial Medicare Bill, Former Congresswoman Says,” CNN, 12/28/11)

The attempt to skate around the legal definition of lobbyist is an old Washington trick, meant to shield influence peddlers from the “lobbyist” label. But there is a reality to what Gingrich has done that no amount of self-serving contractual language can disguise.

The Romney camp refers the media to this ABC report, which is simply devastating:

Newt Gingrich’s decision to release only a portion of his Freddie Mac contract may be doing the candidate more harm than good, causing people, including chief rival Mitt Romney, to question what he may be hiding. . . .
At Monday’s debate in Florida, Romney tried to portray Gingrich as a lobbyist, saying that “it was the head lobbyist with Freddie Mac with whom he had a contract.” Gingrich maintained that “I have never, ever done any lobbying” for the company, and that he was doing strictly “consulting work.”
“If you’re paid by health companies that could benefit by this change, you can call it anything you like,” Romney said. “I call it influence peddling.”
Observers of Washington’s lobbyist culture say that generally, Romney was right — Gingrich was a lobbyist even if he wasn’t a lobbyist. . . .
It doesn’t matter if Gingrich never changed his views on the issues for which he was advocating or if he was voicing his own opinions and not those of Freddie Mac, said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy21, a nonpartisan group that favors more transparency in Washington.
“The question of whether he was a lobbyist and lobbied for the company is not a technical question. It’s a reality question,” Wertheimer said. “And in reality, if he was being paid by the company, and if he urged members to vote in support of a position the company was advocating, he is a lobbyist.”

This issue is so telling because it confirms Gingrich’s advocacy for Freddie (which along with Fannie Mae was front and center in the housing meltdown) and highlights Gingrich’s inability to accept reality, especially when it comes to his own actions. Gingrich has always tried to reconstruct history to make himself the star and the victim — Democrats concocted the ethics charge, he left the speakership voluntarily, etc. But sometimes the facts are the facts and denying them makes you look delusional. Hence, Gingrich’s present predicament.

By  |  10:36 AM ET, 01/25/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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