Newt Gingrich says his consulting group never lobbied for clients. But his business hired state and federal lobbyists to work with clients, and some staff left to take lobbying jobs, according to lobbying disclosures and corporate reports.
Mr. Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation hired a former Georgia lobbyist to help develop business in that state; a former Missouri state agency director who was a registered lobbyist before joining Mr. Gingrich's group; and a Washington lobbyist hired from a firm led by former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, a Gingrich supporter.
The Republican presidential candidate's center also paved the way for some employees to leave for lobbying jobs, turning their experience with his group into a selling point for clients. One former vice president of the firm started his own Washington lobbying firm, attracting clients also represented by Mr. Gingrich's organization. Two other center employees left to manage Washington lobbying operations for trade associations.
Mr. Gingrich's consulting business has been the focus of claims by Republican rival Mitt Romney, who paints the former House speaker as a Washington insider who peddled the influence he acquired in Congress to hundreds of corporate clients after he left the House in 1999.
Mr. Gingrich stressed that he was not lobbying when he created his business and rented space along Washington's K Street corridor known for its high-dollar lobbying firms. And he has criticized Mr. Romney in the campaign for characterizing him as a lobbyist.
The center's website says that "we do no lobbying for clients" and that the staff constitutes "a team of experts in strategic thinking, policy, planning, research, coalition building, training, writing, communications and analysis."
Avoiding the label of Washington lobbyist is a common practice, made even more popular after President Obama vowed to distance his administration from them. The result was a drop in the number of actual registered lobbyists.
In Washington, the legal definition of a lobbyist requires certain narrow criteria to be met, including being paid by a client to spend at least 20 percent of the time attempting to influence "the formulation, modification or adoption of federal legislation." But that leaves out a lot of activity that would fall under a common-sense description of "lobbyist."
Mr. Gingrich last year cut ties to his Center for Health Transformation and the Gingrich Group, although he is still owed between $5 million and $25 million for his share of the business, his financial disclosures show. His group created the center in 2003 to focus on health-related initiatives such as improved health-care technology, Medicare changes and Mr. Obama's health care overhaul. The center won't identify its clients, citing confidentiality concerns.
The Gingrich Group and the center have acknowledged generating $55 million from 2001 to 2010, serving more than 300 companies and organizations, including $1.65 million from the government-supported mortgage company Freddie Mac.