Ethics watchdog alleges that Gingrich might have violated lobbying laws

A watchdog group alleged Thursday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s past work for healthcare industry clients might have violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Gingrich and his Center for Health Transformation (CHT) for not registering as lobbyists and for not filing subsequent disclosure reports. CREW asked for an investigation.

“Despite his repeated disavowals, the evidence shows Mr. Gingrich was lobbying on the Medicare reform bill,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. “Why have an LDA at all if lobbyists can avoid registering just by declaring they don’t lobby, but rather are working for the public interest?”

At question is whether Gingrich should be considered a lobbyist, a claim Gingrich has vehemently denied in the past. Individuals need to register as a lobbyist if 20 percent or more of their time working for a client is spent on lobbying activities.

Sloan said an investigation is necessary to see if Gingrich met the 20 percent requirement in 2003. Without the investigation, it looks as if he met that threshold, she told The Hill.

Neither Gingrich nor CHT registered as lobbyists while lobbying on a Medicare reform bill in 2003, CREW asserts in its complaint to a U.S. attorney and the FBI.

Gingrich created CHT in 2003 and brought in members who paid between $20,000 and $200,000 in annual dues.

He then sought to influence Medicare legislation through directly communicating with members of Congress, congressional staffers and the administration, the CREW complaint alleges.

Throughout the process, CHT relayed what was happening regarding the legislation to its members. In December 2003, Gingrich brought his highest-paying members of CHT to the bill signing, CREW claims.

Details about Gingrich’s activities on the 2003 legislation came out last week, when Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and former Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho) said Gingrich lobbied them on the legislation.

“He told us, if you can’t pass this bill, you don’t deserve to govern as Republicans,” Flake told The Des Moines Register. “If that’s not lobbying, I don’t know what is.”

Gingrich’s campaign denied the claim last week. A spokesman told the Register that promoting “good ideas” does not make him a lobbyist. Gingrich was not paid to meet with the congressmen, which means he was not lobbying, the spokesman said.

But Sloan held that under Gingrich’s standards for registering, “we would have nobody registering under the LDA.”

“I think the evidence indicates that Mr. Gingrich is either misremembering or lying. He doesn’t seem to have that great a grasp of history despite his claims of being a historian,” Sloan told The Hill.

Gingrich’s campaign did not immediately return requests for comment for this article.

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.