Gingrich's Ideas Benefit Contributors

By LIBBY QUAID
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 10, 2007; 12:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- Potential GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has promoted public policy positions that closely track the financial interests of companies that underwrite a think tank he founded.

The Center for Health Transformation is part of an elaborate consulting and communications empire Gingrich has built since he left Congress under a political cloud in January 1999. It gives the former House Speaker and Georgia Republican a far-reaching platform for his views, which he airs on television and radio, in paid speeches and in dozens of opinion columns in major newspapers.

Among his ideas is a health system that lets consumers, not health maintenance organizations, choose the best doctors, medical treatments and hospitals. Such a goal would be accomplished with health savings accounts, which are sought by companies that fund Gingrich's think tank. The accounts would encourage people to shop for cheaper care and forgo treatments they do not need.

A second idea, electronic records to keep better track of people's medical care, is a potential boon to technology companies that underwrite the center.

Rarely does Gingrich acknowledge his opinions would benefit the drug makers, insurers and others who each pay the center up to $200,000 annually.

Critics say Gingrich is doing free advertising, not the free thinking he is admired for by conservative supporters. Gingrich aides say his ideas are aimed at helping all people and not a particular company.

Gingrich, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed.

"This is a massive financial conflict of interest: taking money from organizations that have a set of views, then using the weight of your name, Newt Gingrich, to advance the views of these organizations," said Sid Wolfe, director of health research for Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning watchdog group.

Ellen Miller, an open-government advocate who runs the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, said: "It's a phony think tank. He's nothing but a corporate shill and everything he says about health care should be regarded with complete skepticism."

Gingrich aides say companies give money because of Gingrich's views, not the other way around.

"We've had a very clear vision and strategy in place," said Nancy Desmond, the center's chief executive officer. "People join the center knowing already what we're for. So if they decide to become members of the center, that's generally because they're supportive of the direction we're going."

She said Gingrich occasionally advocates policies with which member companies disagree, adding: "He's really talking about something he believes in. It's not something he's getting paid to make a sales pitch on."


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