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Newt Gingrich Situation Highlights Lobbying Dilemma

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Marianne Gingrich’s background in urban planning and her influence as a Congressman’s wife helped her lay the groundwork in 1988 and 1989 for several federal grants still benefiting a development group based in her Ohio hometown.

While Getchey did not work directly with Gingrich, he said she was hired because of her experience running the planning commission for Ohio’s Trumbull County and because she knew then-director William P. Fergus. Fergus later became Mahoning County’s engineer, a position that led him to prison time for racketeering in a case that involved an aide to expelled Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio).

“She worked directly with Bill,” Getchey said.

While Newt Gingrich worked in Congress to forward President Ronald Reagan’s conservative agenda, his wife’s work at Eastgate appeared to contradict it. In his 1988 budget, Reagan had proposed eliminating the agency Marianne Gingrich was lobbying for funds.

While her Eastgate work did not factor into Newt Gingrich’s ethics probe, the media-shy wife did come under fire for a fundraising scheme the couple undertook for their book, “Window of Opportunity.”

They raised $105,000 from business partners to market the book. Though it was not profitable, Marianne was paid about $10,000 to manage the limited partnership.

Eastgate and the book-deal partnership were the only sources of income listed for Marianne Gingrich on her husband’s financial disclosure forms during that time. A few years earlier, she received payments from the Heritage Foundation and O.D. Resources, a consulting company.

In the mid-1990s, she had a few more clients, including the Israel Export Development Company and the boards of education of Virginia’s Fairfax County and New York’s Ontario County.

The Eastgate job appears to be one of a few instances, if not the only one, when Marianne Gingrich was hired to press a federal agency for money.

Media reports describe Marianne and Newt as having no money at all at the start of their marriage in 1981 and then riding the Congressman’s career to the bank. The couple divorced in 2000.

Newt Gingrich’s ethics violations along the way may be one reason the gray area regarding his wife’s consulting has received little attention.

Gingrich received the first reprimand against a Speaker in 1997 and a $300,000 fine. The action came after he provided false information to the House Ethics Committee about GOPAC and failed to follow federal tax law on two of his projects. He continued to serve as Speaker for almost two more years before leaving Congress.

“Given the much larger issues that he faced, that would have to pale by comparison,” Brand said of Marianne Gingrich’s contracts.

A 1992 House Ethics Manual defines conflict of interest as “a situation in which an official’s conduct of his office conflicts with his private economic affairs.”

It goes on to say that a spouse’s job does not break the rules, even if it poses a conflict of interest, “unless the Member has improperly exerted influence or performed official acts either in order to obtain compensation for or as a result of compensation to the spouse.”

Regardless of whether the Congressman exerted direct influence on his wife’s behalf, Holman argues that she benefited from being related to someone in power, as do dozens of lobbyists who are related to current Members of Congress.

“Everyone knows they are a spouse or a son or daughter of a Member of Congress who has jurisdiction over the agency. That is precisely why they are hired,” Holman said.

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