Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had ties to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae during his time as speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, adding to questions about the nature of his relationship with the home mortgage companies.
Gingrich, then a U.S. representative from Georgia, visited Ireland in 1998 on a trip that was partly sponsored by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the New York Times reported today. Gingrich also helped thwart measures that would have boosted fees paid by the two mortgage companies, the newspaper reported.
Gingrich’s consulting work for Freddie Mac after he left Congress has emerged as a theme in the Republican presidential nomination campaign and drawn criticism from rivals. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have drawn about $153 billion in taxpayer aid since losses from risky mortgages caused them to be brought under U.S. conservatorship in September 2008.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment on his connections to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae during his time in Congress. Douglas Duvall, a Freddie Mac spokesman, declined to comment. Andrew Wilson, spokesman for Fannie Mae, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Gingrich visited a home-building project in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of a 1998 trip that was sponsored by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Times reported.
In 1995, Gingrich helped derail a proposal that could have added billions of dollars in fees to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and opposed another measure that year to raise fees on the two companies, according to the newspaper.
Gingrich expressed support for Fannie Mae, traveling to Atlanta in 1995 to help open a Fannie Mae office promoting home ownership for low- and moderate-income families.
In a press release issued at the time, Gingrich said, “Fannie Mae is an excellent example of a former government institution fulfilling its mandate while functioning in the market economy.”
Fannie Mae hired Gingrich’s former chief of staff, Arne Christenson, as vice president of regulatory policy, in 1999, according the website of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. He worked there until 2003, the center said.
Freddie Mac Adviser
Bloomberg News first reported in November that Freddie Mac paid Gingrich at least $1.6 million for advice over a period of eight years, from 1999 to 2007, after he left Congress.
Some Republicans have criticized Freddie Mac because the company invested in risky mortgages and then needed billions of dollars in taxpayer money for a bailout after the housing market meltdown in 2008.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the front-runner for the Republican nomination, has disparaged the former House speaker as a Washington “influence peddler,” focusing on his contract with Freddie Mac after leaving Congress.
Gingrich has said he has never worked as a lobbyist, adding that Freddie Mac hired him mainly to draw upon his training as an historian and strategist.
Freddie Mac Critic
Throughout the campaign, Gingrich has tried to distance himself from Freddie Mac, criticizing its business model and even suggesting some Democrats should be jailed for associating with the company’s officials at a time when the housing market was about to collapse.
Gingrich, campaigning in Las Vegas yesterday, sought to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to attack Romney.
“We did not create Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that rich guys like Mitt Romney and Goldman Sachs could make money,” Gingrich said to cheers from the crowd. “We created them to provide low-cost housing to the American people and their current behavior is a betrayal of the very purpose of founding them and Congress should be investigating them right now.”