Is Newt Gingrich a lobbyist? That depends, to borrow the phrase from Gingrich’s old sparring partner, on what the definition of “lobbyist” is.
Gingrich and his allies insist that he has never lobbied. And that may well be true under the strict legal definition of lobbying, but as a New York Times story today by Mike McIntire and Jim Rutenberg makes clear, he has been engaged in the kinds of activity that would fall under most people’s common sense definition of lobbying. Or to put it another way, Gingrich may not be a lobbyist, strictly speaking, but he is certainly an influence peddler.
According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, people must register as lobbyist if they are paid to contact and lobby policymakers and if they spend at least 20 percent of their time working for a client on lobbying activities. Let’s assume that Gingrich and his lawyers stayed on the right side of that line (and let’s pause for moment to reflect on the fact that only a longtime Washington insider like Gingrich would understand exactly where that line lies).
But let’s look at what Gingrich has been up to in his lucrative wilderness years. “In the eight years since he started his health care consultancy, he has made millions of dollars while helping companies promote their services and gain access to state and federal officials,” the Times reports. “In a variety of instances, documents and interviews, show, Mr. Gingrich arranged meetings between executives and officials , and salted his presentations to lawmakers with pitches for his clients, who pay as much as$200,000 a year to belong to his Center for Health Transformation. … Yet if Mr. Gingrich has managed to steer clear of legal tripwires, a review of his activities shows how he put his influence to work on behalf of clients with a considerable stake in government policy.”
Among other things, the article cites a PowerPoint presentation Gingrich’s health center made to potential members which noted its “contacts at the highest levels” of government and promised that the $200,000 entry price “increases your channels of input to decision makers” and aid with “access to top transformational leadership across industry and government.”
This is pretty typical Washington fare. Former officials will often work influence peddling/rainmaker gigs, carefully avoiding the scarlet “L” of being a registered lobbyist while using their Washington influence and experience to advance their paying clients’ causes. Former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who President Obama had tapped as Secretary of Health and Human Services before a tax flap tripped him up, is a recent high profile example.
The money quote in the piece comes from Paul Branagan, who was president of Gingrich client Millennium Plastics. “He made it very clear to us that he does not lobby, but that he could direct us to the right places in Washington and elsewhere.”
To sum up, Gingrich did not engage in lobbying as legalistically defined, which is to say he didn’t reach out to policymakers and advocate for his clients. But he did put his long knowledge of Washington at his clients’ disposal, promising that if they paid great gobs of cash his group would increase their access and guiding them through the corridors of power.
Lobbying by any other name would be as politically toxic.