Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Newt lying about having never been a lobbyist?

Tim Carney asserts that Newt Gingrich is lying when he says he has never lobbied Congress.
When Newt Gingrich says he never lobbied, he's not telling the truth.

When he was a paid consultant for the drug-industry's lobby group, Gingrich worked hard to persuade Republican congressmen to vote for the Medicare drug subsidy that the industry favored. To deny Gingrich was a lobbyist requires an Obama-like word parsing over who is and who isn't a lobbyist.

Gingrich stated last week on Fox News, "I do no lobbying of any kind. I never have. A very important point to make. I have never done lobbying of any kind."
Making such a blanket statement can be dangerous. I thought at the time that all it will take will be one person on Capitol Hill to say that Newt Gingrich was lobbying for one of his clients and he'll be exposed as a liar.

Tim Carney has three such witnesses.
Three former Republican congressional staffers told me that Gingrich was calling around Capitol Hill and visiting Republican congressmen in 2003 in an effort to convince conservatives to support a bill expanding Medicare to include prescription-drug subsidies. Conservatives were understandably wary about expanding a Lyndon Johnson-created entitlement that had historically blown way past official budget estimates. Drug makers, on the other hand, were positively giddy about securing a new pipeline of government cash to pad their already breathtaking profit margins.

One former House staffer told me of a 2003 meeting hosted by Rep. Jack Kingston where Gingrich spoke. Kingston would regularly host "Theme Team" meetings with a few Republican congressmen and some of their staff. Just before the House vote, Gingrich was the special guest at this meeting, and he brought one message to the members: Pass the drug bill for the good of the Republican Party.

Conservatives were worried about the potential for cost overruns, and about the credibility of their limited-government arguments if they passed this new entitlement bill. "Every concern that members raised," the former House staffer told me, "Gingrich would respond with a poll number." Gingrich invoked the American Express motto "Don't Leave Home Without It," and told Republicans they could not afford to go home for recess without some Medicare drug bill -- regardless of the content.

Two aides to other GOP members who had been resisting the bill told me their bosses were lobbied by Gingrich over the phone, sometimes citing politics, sometimes citing substance. And it worked. "Newt Gingrich moved votes on the prescription-drug bill," one conservative staffer told me. "That's for sure."
Gingrich is playing Clintonian games to try to pretend that he hasn't done any lobbying, but calling and speaking to congressmen and their staff to try to obtain a certain vote on an issue for which he's being paid as a "consultant" on a certain bill would qualify in anyone's book.

I think it's this past behavior that will come back to bite Gingrich. He'll have to spend time answering the sort of "gotcha" questions that he derides but that will be perfectly legitimate questions about his past record and his truthfulness.