The Wall Street Journal

  • DECEMBER 19, 2011

The Speaker’s defense is hurting him as much as his $1.6 million payday.

  • Newt Gingrich’s opponents aren’t letting up in their criticism of his lucrative ties to the failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac after he resigned as House Speaker in the late 1990s. More damaging to his Presidential candidacy is that Mr. Gingrich doesn’t seem to understand why anyone is offended.

In his first response after news broke that he’d made $300,000 working for Freddie, Mr. Gingrich claimed he had “offered them advice on precisely what they didn’t do.” As a “historian,” he said during a November 9 debate, he had concluded last decade that “this is a bubble,” and that Freddie and its sister Fannie Mae should stop making loans to people who have no credit history. He added that now they should be broken up.

A week later Bloomberg reported that Mr. Gingrich had made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in two separate contracts with Freddie between 1999 and 2008. The former Speaker stuck to his line that “I was approached to offer strategic advice” and had warned the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) to stop lending to bad credit risks.


Getty ImagesRepublican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich

Then on December 2 our colleagues at the Journal reported that as late as April 2007 Mr. Gingrich had defended Fannie and Freddie as examples of conservative governance. “While we need to improve the regulation of the GSEs, I would be very cautious about fundamentally changing their role or the model itself,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview at the time.

Mr. Gingrich added in that interview that there are times “when you need government to help spur private enterprise and economic development.” He cited electricity and telephone network expansion. “It’s not a point of view libertarians would embrace, but I am more in the Alexander Hamilton-Teddy Roosevelt tradition of conservatism,” he said, adding “I’m convinced that if NASA were a GSE, we probably would be on Mars today.”

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Where to begin? One problem is the lack of candor. In Thursday’s Sioux City debate, Mr. Gingrich repeated his claim that he had never done a favor for Fan and Fred. But as Speaker in 1995, according to news reports at the time, Mr. Gingrich helped to kill an effort by then House Budget Chairman John Kasich to impose user fees on Fannie and Freddie. The fees were intended to offset the cost advantage provided to the companies by their implicit government guarantee.

Mr. Gingrich also knows that many Republicans were fighting against furious opposition, and at great political risk, to reform Fan and Fred in the early and mid-2000s. The heroes included then Congressman Richard Baker, Senator Richard Shelby and Bush White House aide Kevin Warsh. We were at the barricades too, and Mr. Gingrich was never seen in the rear of the reform camp, much less on the front lines. The Georgian could only have been on the payroll because Freddie thought he could help influence other Republicans against reform.

As for the destructive duo’s business model that Mr. Gingrich said he didn’t want to change, this was precisely their problem. Far from a private-public partnership, they were private companies with a federal guarantee against failure. Their model was private profit but socialized risk. This produced riches on Wall Street and for company executives. But taxpayers bore the risk of loss—to the tune of $141 billion so far. Why does the historian think they were called “government-sponsored enterprises”?

The real history lesson here may be what the Freddie episode reveals about Mr. Gingrich’s political philosophy. To wit, he has a soft spot for big government when he can use it for his own political ends. He also supported the individual mandate in health care in the 1990s, and we recall when he lobbied us to endorse the prescription drug benefit with only token Medicare reform in 2003.

As late as Thursday night’s debate, Mr. Gingrich was still defending his Freddie ties as a way of “helping people buy houses.” But that is the same excuse Barney Frank used to block reform, and the political pursuit of making housing affordable is what led Freddie to guarantee loans to so many borrowers who couldn’t repay them. Yesterday’s SEC lawsuit against former Fannie and Freddie executives for misleading investors about subprime-mortgage risks only reinforces the point.


If Americans elect a Republican in 2012, it will be someone who can make the case for reviving economic growth, but also for restraining and reforming government so it doesn’t bankrupt the country. If Americans want more “bold” government experiments, they’ll re-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Gingrich would help his candidacy if he stopped defending his Freddie payday, admitted his mistake, and promised to atone as President by shrinking Fannie and Freddie and ultimately putting them out of business.


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