Public interest groups on Friday called on Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich to make public a full list of health care companies that paid his Washington think tank for advice as far back as 2003.
“Gingrich has been unapologetic about his work so I can’t imagine why it would be a problem to release a full list of his clients,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch. “Politically, disclosure can’t and probably won’t hurt — but secrecy can.”
The for-profit Center for Health Transformation since 2003 has signed up some 300 health care businesses, from giant insurance companies and drug manufacturers to technology startups. With Gingrich at the helm, the center took an active role in circulating policy papers, testifying at congressional hearings and taking other steps to build support for dozens of pieces of legislation and federal policy initiatives that would financially benefit its clients.
The Center for Public Integrity detailed the health center’s activities in a report published Thursday. Gingrich severed ties with the center last year.
Gingrich has denied lobbying and the K Street think tank has declined to identify clients who paid as much as $200,000 a year for memberships. However, the Center for Public Integrity obtained a partial list from 2009 showing members such as 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)
“Releasing these names now is a good idea,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has been a vocal critic of Gingrich’s advocacy efforts. “These folks were paying him a fortune and he was advocating for positions that benefited them. There’s no doubt about that,” she said.
The 2009 list shows 17 of the 91 companies were “charter members,” which health center officials said cost them $200,000 a year. AstraZeneca, WellPoint, Microsoft and Booz Allen Hamilton were among those charter members.
Earlier this week, Republican rival Mitt Romney said Gingrich should disclose his list of clients to make sure he did not break any rules. “Let’s see who his clients were at the time he was lobbying Republican congressmen for Medicare Part D,” Romney said to CNN. “Was he working or were his entities working for any health care clients that could have benefited from that?”
Whether these sorts of activities are lobbying — or “influence peddling,” as 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.
Neither Gingrich nor center officials responded to requests for comment on Friday. But Gingrich has repeatedly denied lobbying, as has the center.
“It is important for him to be transparent,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center. “The harder he tries to not disclose the more people feel there is something that he doesn’t want people to see. Running for president is whole different level of scrutiny,” she said.