Gingrich's health center was power player in a host of Washington policy debates

Newt Gingrich. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Newt Gingrich’s Washington-based advocacy on behalf of a broad array of healthcare interests has been far more extensive than the Republican presidential candidate has acknowledged, a review by the Center for Public Integrity has found.

Since 2003, the former House speaker’s Center for Health Transformation has taken an active role in circulating policy papers, testifying at congressional hearings and using other forums to build support for dozens of pieces of legislation and federal policy initiatives that would financially benefit clients who paid as much as $200,000 a year for his services, records show. The center’s advocacy has ranged from promoting costly high- technology medicine to pressing for tax breaks benefiting purchasers of controversial high-deductible insurance plans. Gingrich severed ties with the center last year.

[See also: Gingrich: Early backer of healthcare IT]

Gingrich’s health center markets itself as a think tank focused on health care innovation. It does not release its membership roster, but the Center for Public Integrity obtained a partial list from 2009. Among the members at that time: Microsoft, drug maker AstraZeneca, insurance giant WellPoint, management consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton, GE Healthcare, Siemens, Allscripts, UPS, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and the BlueCross Blue Shield Association. (See the 2009 list here)

In one display of his influence on Capitol Hill, Gingrich appeared at a December 2007 Russell Senate Office Building press conference to promote a bill requiring that Medicare accept prescriptions electronically — a bill in which at least 20 center members had a financial stake or other interest.

“We are committed to the idea that electronic prescribing saves lives and saves money,” Gingrich said that day, sharing the stage with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and three other senators who were sponsors of the legislation.

[See also: Gingrich ventures took in more than $105 million over a decade's time]

 Lobbying or not?

Whether these sorts of activities are lobbying — or “influence peddling,” as rival Mitt Romney has claimed — is in dispute. Prodded by Romney, Gingrich has released a contract that paid $25,000 a month for services to troubled mortgage holder Freddie Mac, and has insisted nothing he did there constituted lobbying. But Romney has argued that the contract and Gingrich’s other work in Washington belie his claim to be running as an outsider.

Federal law defines lobbying narrowly, so many powerful former politicians are able to influence policy matters without having to actually register as a lobbyist. The law defines a lobbyist as someone employed or retained by a client for compensation whose services include more than one lobbying contact and whose lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her services’ time on behalf of that client during any three-month period.