In response to charges from Mitt Romney that the former House speaker 'lobbied' for Freddie Mac, Newt Gingrich campaign surrogate J.C. Watts, a former congressman from Oklahoma, argued that his work as a 'consultant' to the mortgage giant actually makes Gingrich a better candidate for president.
“I think this actually plays into the broader argument to why I think Newt Gingrich would do a better job in the presidency,” Watts said on a conference call this afternoon. “I think, you know, if you’ve got someone that, the governor [Mitt Romney] did consulting work in terms of financial services, I think beating up Newt Gingrich for consulting or beating up Mitt Romney for consulting in the private sector, I think that’s a bit like beating up Michael Jordan for being a great basketball player. You want somebody that’s been there, done that.”
Watts, the former chairman of FM Policy Focus, a lobbying company that pushed for more federal oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, also claimed that Gingrich simply wasn’t involved in the lobbying business on either side of the issue.
“In the six years that I was chairman of FM Policy Focus, we had Republican and Democrat consultants that were part of our meetings. We talked to Republican and Democrat members of Congress. We talked to Wall Street types. And the first time I heard Newt Gingrich’s name [related to Freddie Mac] was 45 days ago,” Watts said.
The direct charge Watts addressed was the one Romney made in Tampa this morning to reporters:
…let’s also see the relationship with Freddie Mac and the work product of Freddie Mac. Let’s have full disclosure of what’s going on. By the way, saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact. He indicates that he doesn’t fall within the narrow definition of lobbyists that he might have in mind. But if you’re working for a company, getting paid for a company through one of your many entities and then you’re speaking with Congressmen in a way that would help that company, that’s lobbying. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.
This is a theme Romney is hitting in his latest TV ad in Florida, too. Watts played down the charge from Romney that Gingrich was a lobbyist, calling it “splitting hairs.”
“If someone wants to split hairs over consulting and lobbying, as the Romney folks want to do, then anybody who’s been associated with Fannie or Freddie, or if they’ve ever taken any money from Fannie and Freddie in terms of campaign contributions—was that legal bribery?” Watts said. “I mean, I think this just tells you that we’re in the silly season. If Newt Gingrich was peddling influence, as I said earlier, why couldn’t someone accuse me, as a former member of Congress who ran four or five different campaigns, and I obviously took campaign contributions, as we all do, is that legal bribery?”