Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has founded several businesses, including a for-profit health care firm called the “Center for Health Transformation” (CHT) and a communications firm called the “Gingrich Group.” CHT serves approximately 94 health industry corporations and lobby groups, including health insurance (BlueCross BlueShield Association, WellPoint, AHIP, UnitedHealth), health IT (L-3 Enterprise, Microsoft, IBM), and pharmaceutical companies — with each paying up to $200,000 annually. And although CHT has no registered lobbyists or lobbyists on retainer, Gingrich has used his CHT business to promote his clients’ interests in Congress:
— Gingrich Meets With Lawmakers To Help Craft Specific Policy, Legislation: In March 2009, Gingrich met with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and other members of the GOP Doctors Caucus to help write conservative health reform alternative legislation. “Gingrich provided us with great insight as we work to craft health care solutions for the 21st Century,” proclaimed Gingrey after the meeting. As FireDogLake has reported, through his CHT firm, Gingrich wrote healthcare legislation introduced by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA). Gingrich’s CHT also “consulted” with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on health reform legislation that would deregulate the insurance industry. As the American Spectator reported, the Coburn-Ryan bill also contained the exact health IT proposals backed by Gingrich.
— Gingrich Helps Clients Obtain Specific Financial Opportunities From Legislation: As Business Week reported, Gingrich and his CHT firm worked with health IT firms like IBM and Microsoft “on how to grab some of the $19.6 billion in federal stimulus money.” The article notes that Gingrich helps “open doors” on Capitol Hill for his business clients.
— Gingrich Advises Lawmakers On Legislative Strategy: According to the New York Times, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) discusses strategy on a “regular basis” with Gingrich. Throughout 2009, Gingrich attended whip meetings with the GOP caucus to “educate” rank and file Republican lawmakers on the health reform debate. Gingrich provides “Newtgrams” — constant e-mails and messages with tactical advice — to a vast array of Republican legislators in both the House and Senate. By helping the GOP kill health reform, Gingrich is also assisting his health insurance clients, which all oppose reform.
— Gingrich Coordinates Meetings Between Corporate Clients, Public Officials: In December 2009, Gingrich met with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and industry partners to discuss potential Wall Street investments in health IT. A health IT trade magazine has noted that since 2007, Gingrich has worked to pair business leaders with influential lawmakers and government officials to promote health IT programs. In March 2009, Gingrich organized a conference to create an “innovative business matchmaking framework” between Israeli telehealth firms, American health insurance and health technology companies, and Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
At a CHT press conference on Monday promoting tort reform (CHT clients include medical malpractice consulting firms for doctors), Gingrich attacked President Obama’s health proposals for lacking a supposed “rhythm of transparency.” In the spirit of this transparency, ThinkProgress asked Gingrich why he has not registered as a lobbyist to provide greater clarity on who exactly is paying him to lobby on legislative issues, especially given the influence of his ideas. Gingrich dodged and explained that he is not a lobbyist because when he lobbies Congress, he does so at the request of lawmakers every time. According to lobbying guidelines, lobbying members of Congress counts as lobbying regardless if it necessarily benefits each client. Nevertheless, Gingrich defended his actions by stating that his lobbying is not technically lobbying because it “benefits the country at large.” Watch it:
At the event, CHT Vice President David Merritt told ThinkProgress that Gingrich has “flipped the trade association model really on its head” by pushing an agenda, then inviting clients who support that agenda to “sign on.” Merritt said that it is “very true” that corporate clients pay Gingrich because his agenda benefits them. However, like Gingrich, Merritt explained that Gingrich’s lobbying never benefits individual clients, thus disqualifying Gingrich as a lobbyist.
However, trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce or AHIP also do not necessarily lobby for individual members. Instead, they lobby for policies that benefit groups of members or the industry as a whole. AHIP, the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers and other trade associations largely follow the law and register their own lobbyists, as well as lobbyists they contract out. Since Gingrich’s CHT is essentially a health industry trade association, the same rules should apply to Gingrich.
As ThinkProgress reported, Gingrich has been working closely with the oil industry through another project he leads. In his ubiquitous punditry, Gingrich touts himself as an author, a “futurist,” a conservative thinker — anything but a lobbyist. But as the evidence shows, he has positioned himself as a nexus between corporate clients and mostly Republican lawmakers. For the sake of transparency, Gingrich should register as a lobbyist pursuant to the Lobbying Disclosure Act.