Newt Gingrich said he gave “strategic advice” to Freddie Mac but did not lobby for the company.
His remarks follow a Bloomberg News story that said the former House Speaker received between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from the mortgage giant.
The story comes as Gingrich has seen his presidential campaign rise in the polls. A Bloomberg poll on Tuesday showed him in a four-way tie for first place in Iowa, an important early caucus state.
Gingrich is scheduled to spend Wednesday in Iowa, and the first question he faced was on his ties to Freddie Mac, which has come under fire recently for bonuses paid to executives. The company also received a bailout during the 2008 housing crisis.
The former Speaker said some of the advice he gave Freddie Mac was in regard to expanding housing opportunities for minorities, and teaching people how to save and maintain a home on low income.
“I tend to give the same strategic advice in private I give in public,” Gingrich said at the Iowa Energy Forum in Des Moines, according to a transcript from Radio Iowa.
His campaign denied Gingrich did any lobbying for the mortgage company and reiterated that the contract was with Gingrich’s company.
“Speaker Gingrich’s consulting firm, The Gingrich Group, was retained in 2006 by Freddie Mac. To be clear, Speaker Gingrich did no lobbying of any kind, nor did his firm. This was expressly written into the Gingrich Group contracts. Instead, the Gingrich Group was hired to offer strategic advice to Freddie Mac on a number of issues,” the campaign stated.
Gingrich also emphasized that he did no lobbying.
The payment, he said, was not in exchange for being a “friendly voice” for Freddie Mac on Capitol Hill, any more than a newspaper “is being bought by the people who advertise in it.”
He echoed that in an interview with conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham later in the day.
"I just want to emphasize this - I did no lobbying, I did not reach out to Capitol Hill," Gingrich said on her program.
"I'm not in the business of lobbying, period."
Pressed to answer why his consulting firm had received so much from Freddie Mac, Gingrich said that his fees were in line with what many consulting firms made, and acknowledged that his past experience as Speaker of the House probably helped secure this contract.
"I assume they wanted the strategic advice of someone who had been Speaker of the House and knew a fair amount about what is going on," Gingrich said.
At the Iowa forum, he was also asked if the story indicates the former Speaker is a Washington insider. On Tuesday, Gingrich billed himself as a Washington outsider in an interview on Fox News.
Gingrich responded that if his relationship with Freddie Mac means he’s a Washington insider than it’s better than the “four years of amateur ignorance” we just had — a likely reference to President Obama.
“It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington and if you want to change Washington, we just tried four years of amateur ignorance and it didn’t work very well, so having somebody who knows Washington might be a really good thing,” he said.
— Andrew Restuccia and Justin Sink contributed.
— This story was last updated at 12:34 p.m.