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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.

As Newt Gingrich was rising in the House Republican ranks, his then-wife, Marianne, was hired by a former employer to extract grant money from the Economic Development Administration, a federal agency President Ronald Reagan sought to eliminate and that her husband oversaw from his seat on the House Public Works and Transportation Committee.

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 the development group based in her Ohio hometown.

Newt Gingrich’s financial disclosure reports for those years show that GOPAC, his political organization, also paid for the couple to visit Youngstown, Ohio, where the Eastgate Development and Transportation Agency was based. Employees there recall seeing the Gingriches around the office, but Roll Call could not confirm whether Marianne Gingrich used the GOPAC-funded trips to visit her employer.

While Marianne Gingrich’s lobbying work would not violate House rules even today, it highlights a familial loophole that groups continue to exploit for political gain.

“Businesses will frequently hire family members of Members of Congress to do lobbying for them,” said Craig Holman of the advocacy group Public Citizen. Holman lobbies Congress on ethics matters.

Yet “there is no specific rule barring that,” according to Stanley Brand, a former House counsel who advises Members of Congress on ethics issues. He said the issue is whether the former Speaker “did something specifically to intervene on her behalf to get the contract.”

The Gingrich campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. A lawyer for Marianne Gingrich declined to comment.

Roll Call obtained a copy of her contracts with the Ohio development group, now called the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. They show she was hired to help the group become an official economic development district, which it did in 1992. The status came with federal funding for strategic planning on how to create jobs and draw businesses to the area.

By the time it was granted, Marianne Gingrich had completed her work with the group and her husband had left the House Public Works Committee for leadership posts in his party.

But the lucrative designation was years in the making, and Gingrich played a role, according to her former colleague John Getchey — now Eastgate’s executive director.

He credited Gingrich with laying the groundwork for the Youngstown Airport and surrounding area to be designated a foreign-trade zone years later.

Gingrich traveled with her husband to Youngstown several times during that period, and Getchey said he remembers the couple visiting Eastgate’s office.

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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