Newt Gingrich, Historian

In the course of the GOP primary presidential debate last night, moderator John Harwood asked former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich about the role he played as a lobbyist for disgraced mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich protested that his work for Freddie Mac was as a historian. According to a piece by Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo:

Newt Gingrich was asked about his work for Freddie Mac at the CNBC debate, drawing a testy answer in which he forcefully clarified he was never a lobbyist — only an “historian.”

“I have never done any lobbying,” he said, saying every contract he signed after leaving office “specifically said I would do no lobbying.”

“I offered advice,” he said. “My advice as an historian when they walked in and said we are now making loans to people that have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything but that’s what the government wants us to do. I said at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible. It turned out unfortunately I was right and the people who were doing exactly what Congresswoman Bachmann talked about were wrong.”

This, of course, is ridiculous. Freddie Mac is a mortgage company. It had no need for a historian. Freddie Mac paid $300,000 to retain Gingrich’s consulting firm, The Gingrich Group, in 2006.

What was that money for? Well, come on. As the Sunlight Foundation’s Gabriela Schneider explained to TPM’s Ryan Reilly:

It doesn’t matter if you’re a historian, CEO or pastry chef. If you’re advising a group and representing their interests before policymakers, you’re lobbying on their behalf — plain and simple.

Current regulations, however, allowed Gingrich to call himself a strategic consultant, and avoid the rules on lobbying. But he was there to offer his Rolodex, and help Freddie Mac advocate the policies it wanted. No institutions will ever pay someone $300,000 to offer “historical perspective.”

Furthermore, Gingrich, who taught briefly at the University of West Georgia and Kennesaw State University, is a historian (sort of) of American a government, not of housing policy, about which he appears to know and say little.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer