BLUFFTON, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich says he didn't need to be a lobbyist after his congressional career because he was paid so handsomely merely to give speeches.
The former House speaker has raked in millions of dollars at his network of for-profit consulting firms, think tanks and speaking engagements. During a meeting with South Carolina voters at a shopping center Tuesday, he confronted a suggestion that he sought to turn his tenure as the House's top Republican into a role of for-hire powerbroker.
"I did no lobbying of any kind — period," Gingrich said. "I'm going to be really direct, OK? I was charging $60,000 a speech. And the number of speeches was going up, not down. Normally, celebrities leave and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year. We were selling more."
The legal definition of lobbying is fairly narrow, encompassing only those who directly contact members of Congress or executive branch officials in an attempt to influence them. Many ex-lawmakers decline to do that kind of work, but instead offer their advice to groups that do lobby, as Gingrich did in the case of Freddie Mac.
Moreover, Gingrich's business network has for years given the Georgia Republican a far-reaching platform to support his causes, such as digital medical records. He contended he never voiced opinions that weren't his own.
"If I didn't like the issue, I didn't deal with it," Gingrich said "If I didn't agree with you, I didn't say it."
However, Gingrich was paid huge sums over the past decade by the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, an institution roundly criticized by Republicans. Gingrich himself criticized Barack Obama in 2008 for accepting contributions from executives of Freddie Mac and its larger sister institution, Fannie Mae, and said the Democrat should give the money back.
Pressed on the matter in Iowa earlier this month, Gingrich said he provided "strategic advice for a long period of time." A person familiar with the Freddie Mac consulting contracts said they paid at least $1.6 million from 1999 to early 2008. The person spoke on condition of anonymity in order address a personnel matter.
Gingrich cracked to supporters Tuesday that he's giving more speeches for free as a candidate now than he ever gave for money.