Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has come under fire, including from Judicial Watch, for his controversial relationship with mortgage giant Freddie Mac in the years after the former House Speaker left Congress. The issue is especially sensitive in Florida, which has been described as “ground zero” of the housing crisis. Voters take to the polls in the “sunshine state” today in the Republican primary. (Judicial Watch does not endorse or oppose candidates for office.)
Gingrich initially said in debates and press interviews that Freddie Mac paid his company as much as $25,000 per month for his services as a “historian.” He has since switched that term out for the more standard “consultant.” But the documents released by the Gingrich campaign suggest he may have been more than a “consultant.”
New details from Newt Gingrich’s contracts worth $1.6 million with Freddie Mac show that the Republican hopeful wasn’t just a boardroom consultant, but served as a high-profile booster for the beleaguered organization. He even gave a rallying speech to dozens of the group’s political action committee [PAC] donors in the spring of 2007.
Shortly after the “rah, rah” speech, as one source described it, Gingrich gave an interview for the Freddie Mac website, where he supported the group’s model at length. The interview is no longer on Freddie’s site.
Gingrich said in the interview that Freddie has “made an important contribution to home ownership and the housing finance system,” even though many Republicans revile it.
And so these records seem to suggest that Gingrich, who described the Freddie Mac business model “insane” on the campaign trail, had a different tale to tell when Freddie Mac was filling his corporate bank account.
Regarding Freddie’s political contributions, Politico reports, “Freddie Mac’s PAC contributed $327,000 to federal candidates in the 2006 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly 130 employees and spouses of employees contributed $330,000 over that same time period.” Overall, according to Opensecrets.org, Fannie and Freddie contributed $4.8 million dollars to candidates over a 20-year period (1989-2008). The top three recipients: Former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), President Barack Obama during his service in the U.S. Senate, and Senator John Kerry (D-MA).
Importantly, Gingrich’s “consulting” arrangement was in force right up until the Federal Housing Finance Agency seized control of the beleaguered enterprise (and its sister organization Fannie Mae) three years ago.
Now Gingrich has sustained fire for artfully dodging questions about his relationship with Freddie Mac and for taking so long to release records related to this relationship. The public and the press can have the debate as to what this relationship means politically. But at least he has turned on the spigot and the documents are starting to flow into the public domain.
We can’t say the same about the Obama administration.
JW has been engaged in a battle with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) over documents related to the political contributions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We want these records for precisely the same reason the media is so feverishly interested in Newt Gingrich’s Freddie Mac records.
We want to know everything there is to know about the well-lubricated political relationships that enabled Fannie and Freddie to conduct their questionable activities with virtually no oversight, ultimately leading to the demise of the housing market and the ensuing financial crisis. (We already uncovered documents proving members of Congress ignored corruption inside the two Government Sponsored Enterprises for years.)
The Obama administration, meanwhile, says these records are none of the public’s business. They made the shocking argument in court that Fannie and Freddie, which are now wholly owned by the federal government, are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). JW countered that FHFA has custody over these records and they should be released: “There is nothing contingent, hypothetical, indefinite, or limiting about this plain statutory language vesting the FHFA with both legal custody and lawful control over the records.”
A federal district court agreed in large part with JW’s legal argument, but nonetheless concluded the FHFA did not control the records because the records in question weren’t being “used”! We filed an unsuccessful appeal, so the court-endorsed government cover-up continues for now. These very records would have included documents about Gingrich’s “rah rah” speech to the Freddie Mac PAC!
We’ve asked the FHFA again for documents, this time about Newt Gingrich, and we’re still getting stonewalled. It is unbelievable – though so typically “Washington” – that Obama protects his campaign opponent Gingrich through unprecedented assertions of government secrecy. I bet you we will get the “secret” Osama bin Laden photos before Obama disgorges anything on the Freddie/Fannie racket that has cost taxpayers over $150 billion and counting.
Here’s the takeaway on the Gingrich/Freddie relationship and any other politician tied to either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac: The public deserves to know the details of these relationships. The Obama administration has records that can clear the air. But it refuses to release them.
Could it have something to do with the fact that President Obama, in only three years in the U.S. Senate, shot up the list of Fannie/Freddie beneficiaries all the way, relatively speaking, to number one?
(By the way, not one of the presidential candidates has bothered to answer any of our questions about government secrecy and other important policy matters. The AP has a good expose on the bipartisan hypocrisy here.)