Top Romney advisers lobbied for Freddie Mac

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Mitt Romney’s campaign is attacking Newt Gingrich as an “influence peddler.” But it turns out that some of Romney’s closest advisers (or the firms they lobbied for) were paid hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of dollars on behalf of failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the AP, former Rep. Susan Molinari — a top Romney surrogate and adviser (watch her attacking Gingrich in this video) — was one of the former GOP lawmakers paid quite handsomely to help stop “any meaningful regulation in the years before the housing mortgage giant crashed …”

She’s not alone. One of Romney’s top economic policy advisers, Vin Weber (whom Politico described as a “former Minnesota congressman and certified member of the D.C. power elite), spent years lobbying for the group. According to the AP, in 2006 alone, Webber’s lobbying firm (Clark and Weinstock) was paid $360,297 by Freddie. And according to the AP, Weber made no bones about his close ties to the failed mortgage giant:

“I personally met with the CEO several times and with Hollis and his team regularly,” Weber said in the e-mail. “Clark and Weinstock worked effectively and intensely for Freddie Mac under Dick Syron [Freddie Mac’s then-chairman and chief executive] and [Senior Vice President] Hollis McLoughlin.”

Reached for comment, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said: “We’d like to know when Gov. Romney is going to ask his own advisers to return their money.”

Four years ago, Mitt Romney attacked John McCain for having a campaign run by lobbyists. Now, it turns out two of his closest advisers and surrogates lobbied for Freddie, a point which seems to undermine the notion that Gingrich’s work on behalf of the group would be a disqualification.

It’s also interesting to note that while Gingrich’s contract specifically identified him as a consultant, other ex-lawmakers were specifically working as lobbyists. And while Romney (and others) have questioned the veracity of Gingrich’s claims, Mitchell Delk, a former chief lobbyist for Freddie Mac, told Bloomberg News in a November interview that he hired Gingrich as a consultant during an earlier stint between 1999 and 2002 to provide feedback on Freddie Mac initiatives.

“What he did was provide counsel on public policy issues,” Delk said. “There was no expectation that he would do any lobbying, and he did not do any lobbying.”

There is another interesting, albeit, less direct connection between Team Romney and Freddie, as well.

Prior to joining the campaign, Romney’s campaign manager Matt Rhoades was vice president at the prominent public affairs firm, DCI Group. According to reports, two years prior to his tenure there, Freddie Mac secretly paid his firm $2 million “to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.”

In what makes the story perhaps even more ironic, the AP noted that “DCI never filed lobbying reports with Congress about what it was doing because the firm was relying on a long-recognized gap in the disclosure law.”

Attacking Gingrich’s work for Freddie has become a centerpiece of Romney’s campaign. But like so many issues during this primary campaign, it’s impossible for one candidate to get a clean hit on another.

For example, this comes on the heels of an AP story showing that Romney had “invested as much as $500,000 in the U.S.-backed lender and its sister entity, Fannie Mae” (Note: Romney’s campaign argues the investment was held in a blind trust).

Add that to the fact that some of Romney’s closest advisers were themselves working for Freddie, and the attacks on Gingrich seem more than a tad hypocritical.

Matt K. Lewis