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Truth Squad: Did Bachmann prove Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac?

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:17 AM EST, Fri December 16, 2011

Editor's note: Part of the CNN Republican debate fact-checking series

(CNN) -- During Thursday night's Republican candidates' debate in Sioux City, Iowa, a moderator asked U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to produce hard evidence that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had peddled his influence with congressional Republicans on behalf of mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Bachmann, who is among conservatives who say Freddie Mac and fellow federally backed mortgage group Fannie Mae had a role in the collapse of the U.S. housing market, has criticized Gingrich for his post-Congress work as a consultant for Freddie Mac and accused him of lobbying senior Republicans on Freddie Mac's behalf.

Bachmann was asked: "Given (Gingrich's) denial over time ... that he's ever lobbied, what is your evidence -- hard evidence -- that he engaged in influence peddling?"

The statement: "It's the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac. That is the best evidence that you can have: over $1.6 million. ... The evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took $1.6 million. You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get them to do your bidding."

The facts: CNN reported in November that the consulting company that Gingrich started after he left Congress, the Gingrich Group, was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million for work done with Freddie Mac.

Gingrich has repeatedly said he and his firm consulted Freddie Mac and other groups, but did not lobby for anyone.

"Gingrich made a decision after resigning (from the House) that he would never be lobbyist so that nobody would ever question the genuine nature of his advice and perspectives," the Gingrich campaign website says, adding that Freddie Mac was one of many Gingrich Group clients, and that its fees were comparable to that of many consulting firms.

Freddie Mac has backed Gingrich's assertion, telling CNN last month that he was a consultant, and not a lobbyist.

A former official who worked for Freddie Mac during Gingrich's two stints with the group -- 1999-2002 and 2006-2008 -- told CNN that Gingrich's work included consulting about Freddie's efforts to become more transparent about "risk and capital management" procedures, risk information disclosure, and how those efforts would be received in Congress, specifically by Republicans.

In Gingrich's first turn, Freddie Mac worked with him on the group's desire to "bond" with Bush administration officials on the idea of creating a "home ownership society" -- getting more Latinos and other minorities into home ownership, the source said. It's not clear how Gingrich worked with Freddie Mac on this.

In the second stint, Freddie Mac officials tried to get Gingrich, known for intricate policy ideas, to write "white papers" on how good the "model" was for government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie because free-market Republicans didn't like that model, the official said. Freddie Mac officials were frustrated with Gingrich, the source said, because they had a hard time getting him to write anything.

The verdict: Misleading. While Freddie Mac was a Gingrich Group client, Bachmann did not offer hard evidence that Gingrich lobbied for Freddie Mac.

CNN's Lindsey Knight and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

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