Even while surging in the polls, Newt Gingrich is being sullied by one of the dirtiest words in politics: not “harasser,” “flip-flopper,” “moderate,” or “extremist”—but “lobbyist.” And if that weren’t bad enough, he’s being accused of lobbying for the utterly reviled mortgage behemoth Freddie Mac. The only thing worse, maybe, would be to be accused of lobbying for its slightly bigger sibling, Fannie Mae.
It’s easy to pick on Gingrich—his breakup with his wife as she recovered from cancer surgery, his pious condemnation of Bill Clinton while carrying on an affair with a young staffer, the six-figure Tiffany bills to outfit his third wife, his earlier bombastic denunciations of Fannie and Freddie (before his own ties were known). But lambasting him for being a lobbyist, even, as he claims to be, a nonregistered lobbyist? Many (if not most) of the politicians I follow leave public service to work for the “government relations departments” of law firms (an euphemism for lobbying departments)—or join public affairs firms with fancy names that disguise their purpose of lobbying.
Gingrich’s defense that Freddie Mac paid his firm as much as $1.6 million for his “strategic advice” as “an historian” makes him more of a fat target, as does his squirrelly argument that he was never a registered lobbyist. Still, I’d wager that at least a few of those who are chastising Gingrich today have nonregistered lobbying somewhere in their past.
But one opponent about whom Gingrich probably needn’t worry is Obama’s Chief of Staff Bill Daley. In fact, Gingrich need look no further for a soulmate than the West Wing of the White House, where he’ll find—at least for the time being—Daley, formerly a nonregistered lobbyist who served on Fannie Mae’s board. Clinton gave Daley that lucrative appointment, which included a stock option plan. I wrote about this nice perk at the height of the 2008 presidential race, when a John McCain ad not only linked Daley to such onetime Obama buddies as Tony Rezko and Rod Blagojevich, but also labeled Daley “a lobbyist.” Then-Mayor Rich Daley squealed with anger over the ad, and Bill Daley sought cover in the distinction-without-much-of-a-difference between registered vs. unregistered. “I’ve never been a lobbyist,” he told the Sun-Times’ Mike Sneed.
In fact, as I discovered in my research for a 2005 Daley profile, the John Marshall graduate was offered a partnership at Mayer, Brown & Platt in order to build the firm’s lobbying practice. His brother was not yet mayor, but Bill was close to powerhouse tax law-writing Congressman Dan Rostenkowski. In 2001, after Daley’s efforts as chairman of the Gore campaign and the recount failed, he went to work for SBC, whose chairman, Ed Whitacre, hired Daley, essentially, to lobby the FCC, state regulators, and politicians to loosen regulations on phone companies.
On a related note, Daley’s son, Bill Jr., was a registered lobbyist for Fannie Mae; he now works for Morgan Stanley in Chicago as an executive director with the firm’s municipal finance group, and is registered as a lobbyist in Cook County and Illinois. Morgan Stanley was a major player in the privatization of Chicago’s parking meters, but the firm has denied that Bill Jr. had anything to do with the deal.
Photography: (Gingrich) Gage Skidmore via Flickr; (Daley) Chicago Tribune