Romney attacks Newt as "lobbyist"

Even as he goes after Gingrich for working for Freddie Mac, Romney has surrounded himself with lobbyists

Published January 24, 2012 4:00PM (EST)

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich  (Reuters/Jim Young)
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (Reuters/Jim Young)

Part of the aggressive new Romney campaign offensive against Newt Gingrich is to attack Gingrich for having been a lobbyist. The irony of the strategy is that Mitt Romney has surrounded himself with multiple registered lobbyists at the highest level of his campaign.

“Over the last 15 years since he left the House, he talks about great bold movements and ideas,” Romney told a Florida crowd this week. “Well, what’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist, yeah, he’s been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington."

In fact, Gingrich has never been a registered lobbyist -- a distinction that Gingrich invoked in the Monday night debate -- but his "strategic advice" work for Freddie Mac looked a lot like what can be colloquially described as lobbying, or at least something close to it.

And Gingrich's work for healthcare companies in his post-congressional career looks even more like lobbying than the Freddie Mac consulting. The Times reported in November:

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.

When the center sponsored a “health transformation summit” at the Florida State Capitol in March 2006, lawmakers who attended Mr. Gingrich’s keynote speech inside the House chamber received a booklet promoting not just ideas but also the specific services of two dozen of his clients. Executives from some of those companies sat on panels for discussions that lawmakers were encouraged to attend after Mr. Gingrich’s address.

Romney is now suggesting that Gingrich did not register as a lobbyist when perhaps, by law, he should have.

But this line of attack is undermined by the fact that the Romney campaign is chock-full of people who have been lobbyists. They include:

  • Former Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney surrogate and co-chairman of a top Washington lobby shop, Mercury Public Affairs, which has recently worked for big banks and the coal industry. (We explored Talent’s recent background here.)
  • Charlie Black, an informal Romney advisor who is easily one of the best-known Republican lobbyists of his generation. Black has recently lobbied for Boeing, WalMart and the financial services industry.
  • Ron Kaufman, who, according to the Globe, has been traveling with the Romney campaign and providing strategic advice. He was formerly chairman of the Dutko Group Worldwide.
  • Former Rep. Vin Weber, a Romney policy advisor and also managing partner at Clark & Weinstock.

The lobbyist question is not a new one for Romney. Back in his first presidential run in 2007, he famously got into a verbal tussle with an Associated Press reporter who challenged Romney’s claim that lobbyists were not running his campaign. The must-see video of that exchange is here.

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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2012 Elections Lobbying Lobbyists Mitt Romney Newt Gingrich