WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich, the latest Republican to enjoy a turn atop US presidential polls, earned a reported $1.6 million as a consultant to Freddie Mac, the government-owned lender and despised target of conservative critics.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has downplayed his ties to Freddie, which along with its sister lender Fannie Mae was a major protagonist in the US mortgage meltdown of that sent the world economy into a tailspin.
News reports, citing sources inside Freddie Mac, this week said Gingrich earned between $1.6 million to $1.8 million from Freddie Mac between 1999 to 2008.
His campaign released a statement on Wednesday confirming that Gingrich had been retained in the past by the mortgage lender.
“To be clear, Speaker Gingrich did no lobbying of any kind, nor did his firm,” the statement read.
It added that among other matters “Freddie Mac was interested in advice on how to reach out to more conservatives.”
During a debate last week, Gingrich’s remarks on the issue were a bit more pointed.
“My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, ‘We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that’s what the government wants us to do.’
“As I said to them at the time, ‘This is a bubble. This is insane’,” he said.
His rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Michele Bachmann, on Wednesday accused Gingrich of “shilling” for Freddie.
“Fannie and Freddie, as you know, have been the epicenter of the financial meltdown in this country,” Bachmann said.
“Whether former Speaker Gingrich made $300,000 or whether he made $2 million, the point is that he took money to influence senior Republicans to be favorable toward Fannie and Freddie,” said Bachmann of the lenders that conservative have excoriated as bloated, wasteful and superfluous.
The controversy is the first to bedevil Gingrich during his early days as a Republican frontrunner — a perch from which more intense scrutiny of his background and his record are guaranteed.
Gingrich, 68, is an old Washington hand with a long history in elective politics. He is best known for helping his party defeat the Democrats in 1994 and take control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
He left Congress in 1998 after his party’s unsuccessful reelection efforts and a failed attempt to remove then-president Bill Clinton from office for lying about an affair with an intern.
The former Georgia lawmaker is one of several contenders to be courted as the darling of the moment by fickle conservatives, who have appeared unable to settle on a choice as they have shifted support from candidate to candidate.
Republican voters have resisted giving their full support to Romney, seen by many as the most formidable challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election but who has been unable to win over the party’s conservative base.
Gingrich — seen as being among America’s most polarizing politicians — launched his White House bid in May, but quickly made multiple gaffes that sent his opinion polls plummeting.
His numbers have risen mostly on his highly-praised performance in recent candidate debates.
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