As Newt Gingrich attempts to shrug off his political baggage, the former House speaker is under scrutiny for having close ties to health care giants and flip-flopping on his statements on health care.
The Center for Health Transformation, which Gingrich founded, raked in millions of dollars from heavy hitters like GE Healthcare and Wellpoint, as first reported by the Washington Post. The group says it does not lobby, but on its website, it touts its ability to build bridges between the federal government and private sector.
He has blasted the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, saying in a video that he is “completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals,” and that he “fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation.” But the group, which Gingrich founded, actually supported imposing a mandate on those who made more than $50,000 per year.
Still, Gingrich hasn’t made that clear. In fact, he criticized opponent Mitt Romney for implementing such a “bureaucratic” mandate in Massachusetts.
Gingrich also broke from the right when he praised his client Gundersen Lutheran Health System‘s end-of-life best practice as one that “empowers patients and families.” At the height of the health care debate in which end-of-life care became a key dividing issue between Republicans and Democrats, Gingrich stood out alone in the Republican field.
Gingrich’s other businesses are also under the spotlight. Through Gingrich Group, the former House speaker consulted for reportedly $1.8 million for eight years for Freddie Mac, the federally-backed mortgage giant that most conservatives say should be eliminated. While Gingrich has denied lobbying for them, he hasn’t provided a viable explanation of what kind of services he provided to an organization that he himself recently said should be abolished. In 2008, he demanded that President Obama and other members of Congress return the money they received from them, and more recently said Democrats like Rep. Barney Frank should be jailed for having ties with lobbyists at those organizations.
On Wednesday, Gingrich's staff offered a fuller picture of Gingrich's activities after a Bloomberg article revealed that he made about five times more than what was originally stated as a $300,000 income in 2006.
"Gingrich was given a briefing by one of the company's economists," spokesman R.C. Hammond told Fox News. As for claims Newt never flagged to Freddie that a bubble was coming, Hammond said that Gingrich's reaction after the briefing was "that's a bubble. You are creating a bubble." Though he never told the CEO directly, he did tell the company representative.
Hammond added that a dozen companies hired Gingrich to provide similar consulting as provided to Freddie, and in almost all cases the client would provide challenges and he would give advice to them on how to solve that problem. The Gingrich Group had contracts with Freddie Mac starting in 1999 but none with Fannie. The amount paid was similar to the figure he got from other companies he consulted for during that time.
Freddie itself had a robust internal and external government affairs division on the 1990s and hired a number of outside firms for lobbying and consulting services, of which The Gingrich Group was one. In 2008, Freddie fired all of its external lobbyists and dramatically pared back its internal shop.
The connections with Washington insiders and multi-million dollar corporations makes it hard for Gingrich to cast himself as an outsider and clouds his campaign, experts say.
As he rises in the polls, Gingrich’s inconsistencies are increasingly coming under the spotlight. It remains to be seen whether Gingrich can overcome these hurdles but the results of this scrutiny could be damaging, experts say.