Newt Gingrich greets supporters during in Jacksonville, Fla. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011.
Newt Gingrich greets supporters during in Jacksonville, Fla. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Stephen Morton/AP
In Washington, a select group of people can use their former lofty positions in government to make riches of the sort that would make a 17th-century European monarch envious.
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, was clearly one of those people, creating a consultancy and think tank that can be described as Newt Inc.
The problem for Gingrich as a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, however, is that anyone to whom corporations are willing to pay millions of dollars for "strategic advice" is by definition, a Washington insider. And such insiders aren't high on the list of what Tea Party conservatives are looking for in a Republican presidential nominee.
So stories like a Washington Post report by Dan Eggen that a Gingrich think tank was paid millions of dollars by companies that in return got access to the former speaker and help from him to frame their arguments for federal policymakers aren't particularly helpful to Gingrich as he tries to make his case with Republican primary voters.
Nor is it helpful that Gingrich's think tank supported the idea of an individual mandate for health care insurance.
Similarly unhelpful to Gingrich in the Republican primaries is his apparent support for an idea that was derided by Sarah Palin and Tea Party activists as "death panels." Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times reported that Gingrich wrote a Washington Post opinion piece in which he approved of Medicare patients being advised about "advanced directives," that would tell relatives and doctors not to take extraordinary medical measures to keep recipients alive.
An excerpt from the Washington Post piece on Gingrich's health care think tank:
"A think tank founded by GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich collected at least $37 million over the past eight years from major health-care companies and industry groups, offering special access to the former House speaker and other perks, according to records and interviews...
"The health center advocated, among other things, requiring that "anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year must purchase health insurance or post a bond," a type of insurance mandate that has since become anathema to conservatives."
And here's an excerpt from the NY Times piece:
Writing on the Web site of The Washington Post, Mr. Gingrichpraised Gundersen Lutheran Health System of LaCrosse, Wis., for its successful efforts to persuade most patients to have "advance directives," saying that if Medicare had followed Gundersen's lead on end-of-life care and other practices, it would "save more than $33 billion a year."
But within weeks, Mr. Gingrich would find himself on the wrong end of what some Republicans labeled the "death panel" issue. Many conservatives had begun expressing anger at town hall meetings that summer because the proposed Democratic health-care law would have allowed Medicare to finance beneficiaries' consultations with professionals on whether to authorize aggressive and potentially life-saving interventions later in life.
All this, of course, comes after Bloomberg News reported that a Gingrich firm was paid as much as $1.8 million by Freddie Mac for "strategic advice." Being that mortgage giant Freddie Mac and its sister quasi-private company Fannie Mae, are blamed by conservatives for causing the housing market meltdown (though non-partisan and respected experts say the causes were much broader) Gingrich's post-Congressional activities don't exactly line up with where most Tea Party voters are.
Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who Gingrich has said should be thrown in jail, along with former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, because of their past support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has been obviously enjoying Gingrich's current problems.
Asked by Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball earlier in the week if Gingrich was telling the truth when he said he didn't lobby for Freddie Mac, Frank said of Gingrich:
"Well, he's just lying. It is, of course, lobbying. And again, he slipped when he was defending the fee.. because he said 'After all, I'm a former speaker of the House.' Well, that's an important credential if you're hiring a lobbyist."