On the heels of the release of papers that contradict him on his claims regarding his first divorce, Newt Gingrich is now being challenged by a former and a current member of Congress who say that it is not true, as Gingrich has claimed, that he did not lobby Congress after leaving as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1998.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and former congressman Butch Otter (both supports of Mitt Romney) have come forward to claim that Gingrich personally lobbied members in their presence to support the controversial Medicare expansion bill in 2003, two Republicans who were in the room said this week. New Hampshire Republican Jeb Bradley also remembers Gingrich lobbying for the bill.
Gingrich was reportedly lobbying to pass the controversial Medicare prescription-drug program, which barely passed and has been denounced as a windfall for the powerful pharmaceutical lobby. The described a meeting with 30 Republican House members who were opposed to the bill where Gingrich told them that they had to vote for the bill or effectively abandon their party.
Otter is now the governor of Idaho.
At the time, many legislators objected to the strong-arming by the lobbyists and former members. Walter Jones, R-N.C. said “The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill. The bill was over 1,000 pages. And it got to the members of the House that morning, and we voted for it at about 3 a.m. in the morning.”
In reality, Gingrich has a legal defense, albeit a technical one. So long as you do not send more than 20 percent of your time lobbying, you do not have to register as a lobbyist. Moreover, even if you spend such time, you do not have to register if you only have one contact with officials. The members have defined lobbyist to allow for ample room for profit-making. Here is an example from Section 4 of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA), 2 U.S.C. § 1605:
Example 2: Corporation “C” does not employ an individual who meets the definition of “lobbyist.” Employee “X” is told by her supervisor to contact the Congressman representing the district in which Corporation “C” is headquartered. “X” makes a lobbying contact on June 1, 2008. “X” does not anticipate making any further lobbying contacts, but spends 25% of her time on this legislative issue. No registration is required at this point. In August 2008, “X” is instructed to follow up with the Congressman again. “C” registers and discloses August 5, 2008 as the effective date of registration (the date that “X” contacted the Congressman for the second time and thereby meets the definition of a lobbyist).
Lobbying remains one of the most profitable areas for former members. Ironically, the pharmaceutical industry has been repeatedly denounced for the hiring of former members and staffers in what some view as a award for the passage of windfall legislation.
What is striking is that this particular legislation was widely viewed as the most corrupt exchange of positions for votes in Congress in decades. Former Congressman Billy Tauzin, R-La., pushed the bill through the House over objections from members and public interest organizations. He then accepted a $2 million a year job as president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main industry lobbying group. Medicare head Thomas Scully, who was accused of coercing employees to hide the true costs of the program, was given a job as a pharmaceutical lobbyist as were 14 congressional aides who worked on the passage of the bill. It was in this context that Gingrich appeared in the House to strong-arm votes. Twenty-five former members and high-ranking staffers returned to lobby for the industry with huge salaries — an example to others how to profiteer at the public expense.
For Gingrich, the distinction may be a precious one to offer voters. He could essentially argue that I was only assuring you that I was not legally a lobbyist as opposed to doing what a lobbyist does in pushing members to vote for a bill. This particular bill was one of the most sordid displays of influence in the history of Congress. Even if Gingrich can make a technical arguments on what the meaning of lobbyist is, this may not pass the smell test for voters — particularly older voters.
Source: Des Moines Register
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