LAMBRO: Gingrich the lobbyist

His Freddie Mac explanation is a distinction without a difference

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It should be clear by now that Newt Gingrich, despite his denials, was lobbying for Freddie Mac, the home-loan giant at the core of the subprime mortgage scandal.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leveled that charge at the former House speaker in Monday’s Republican debate in Tampa, Fla., and independent public interest groups and fact checkers have said Mr. Romney is right.

Mr. Gingrich and his well-heeled consulting business were paid big money - at least $1.8 million - by Freddie Mac, a federally backed agency that had to be bailed out by the taxpayers to the tune of more than $52 billion.

At first, Mr. Gingrich said he was hired by Freddie Mac as a “historian.” But he soon backed off that preposterous defense. How many historians are paid $1.8 million?

Then it gradually became clear that he was doing more for Freddie Mac than his second fallback story, providing strategic advice as a consultant.

This was a government-sponsored program that was in deep trouble, but Mr. Gingrich said he told top Freddie Mac officials at the outset that their business model was “insane.” Officials there said no one who sat in on its meetings with him over an eight-year period remembers him saying that.

More important, it turns out his role was much more than offering advice on how Freddie Mac ran its business. It was to help it gain access to key members of the House, where Mr. Gingrich knew all the players in housing policy and the levers to pull to get things done.

On the eve of the Tampa debate, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign released a portion of the contracts he had signed with Freddie Mac. A statement on his campaign website said that “at no time did Gingrich lobby for Freddie Mac” or “advocate against pending legislation affecting Freddie Mac.”

But independent sources and a statement put out by the Gingrich campaign in November pointed out that the agency “was interested in advice on how to reach out to more conservatives.”

What this means is Freddie Mac officials wanted to meet with key conservative members of Congress to make their own case about how the agency was dealing with its debts and digging out of the massive subprime mortgage hole at taxpayers’ expense.

Notably, during his work at Freddie Mac, Mr. Gingrich dealt directly with the agency’s chief lobbyist, Craig Thomas, who was identified as “project director” in Mr. Gingrich’s contract. In other words, he was working for the agency’s lobbying shop.

“Thomas was listed as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac in 2000, 2005 and 2006, according to disclosure records,” writes Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen.

But does this prove, as Mr. Romney charged in Monday night’s debate, that Mr. Gingrich “has worked for 15 years lobbying?

An investigation into Mr. Gingrich’s work at Freddie Mac by the Politifact.com website and others has concluded that it does.

“Experts we spoke with and the research we reviewed showed the ‘strategic advice’ category is a way of using influence without having to register as a lobbyist,” Politifact writes in its Truth-O-Meter feature.

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About the Author
Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, the author of five books and a nationally syndicated columnist. His twice-weekly United Feature Syndicate column appears in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Times. He received the Warren Brookes Award For Excellence In Journalism in 1995 and in that same year was the host and co-writer of ...

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