His career has periodically mixed politics with academics, so it's no surprise that Newt Gingrich is now giving official Washington a lesson on the absurd weakness of our lobbying laws.
A report in Wednesday's editions of the New York Times details how the former House speaker has earned a handsome living in recent years by calling himself a "consultant" while working as a lobbyist and evading the lobbying laws. It all appears to be perfectly legal.
A Gingrich-led company, the "Center for Health Transformation" charges health care companies up to $200,000 annually for "top-tier" memberships, the Times reported. Then the center uses Gingrich's name and reputation to attract elected officials to seminars and other meetings where they meet the former speaker and listen to sales pitches from the center's corporate clients.
Gingrich and the center have been particularly active in promoting electronic storage of health records; Gingrich even boasted in 2005 that the center was joining a pair of prominent Democrats -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Patrick Kennedy -- in "launching a bill" to promote such record-keeping.
This is exactly what lobbyists do of course; but none of it is lobbying, Gingrich's lawyer assures the Times. Indeed, says attorney Randy Evans, Gingrich and the center developed "specific protocols and procedures" so that their activities would not meet the legal definition of lobbying.
No wonder so many Americans -- liberal, moderate and conservative -- are fed up with the ways of Washington.
We have laws requiring lobbyists to register and regulating their activities so that citizens can keep an eye on who is trying to influence our elected officials and how much is being spent in the effort. Gingrich is part of a lobbying industry that prefers to work in the shadows. He isn't the first former member of Congress to use his reputation to help corporate clients connect with and push their products to elected officials. That he and others are able to continue these activities, and get away with it, is a disgrace.
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