In a rare interview, the wife of House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Thursday defended her $2,500-a-month job attracting American companies to a high-tech business park in Israel championed by her husband.
“If I were going to get a political payoff, it would not be for the amount of money I am making,” Marianne Gingrich told The Associated Press. “I mean, that’s ridiculous.”
Gingrich has acknowledged he promoted the idea of an Israeli enterprise zone where companies can operate free of most taxes. But he has said his wife was hired by the company promoting the park because of her own experience and that he never mentioned her company, the Israeli Development Export Co., in talks with Israeli officials.
He also has said her job involves no lobbying of the U.S. government and thus poses no conflict of interest with his own duties as House speaker.
Asked about suggestions of a conflict of interest, Mrs. Gingrich said: “There is no conflict. All it is is a way for people to really go after Newt.”
Mrs. Gingrich, flashing a tired smile after a long flight to Israel from the United States, blamed journalists and some lawmakers for any fuss.
Except for such splashes of unwelcome publicity, Mrs. Gingrich has largely lived outside the spotlight dominated by her husband.
She’s had a variety of jobs in urban planning, business consulting and home design while serving as Gingrich’s confidante, a woman who tells him how his ideas seem to be playing outside Washington.
“She’s a very strong woman. But she’s not one who wants her ideas foisted on the nation,” said Mel Steely, a former Gingrich aide and West Georgia College history professor who is writing a biography of the speaker.
During a six-day stay in Israel, Mrs. Gingrich will tour the site of the planned business park near the southern Negev Desert town of Beersheva. Companies locating there would operate free of most taxes.
Mrs. Gingrich said she has been working for the Israel Export Development Co. since August, when her husband was minority whip and the Democrats controlled the House.
Mrs. Gingrich was promoted from a marketing representative to vice president in charge of business development in January.
Mrs. Gingrich said she was not bound by House ethics rules since she was not a member of Congress. However, she said there were no clear guidelines for spouses of legislators on what is and isn’t appropriate.
“I’ve talked to some other spouses, both Republican and Democrat, and hopefully (we) can put together a task force to work with the Ethics Committee,” she said.
Mrs. Gingrich, 43, and her husband, 51, were married in 1981, a year after his breakup from his first wife.
Mrs. Gingrich said Thursday it wasn’t always easy for her to live in the limelight focused on her husband. “I think it makes it harder as a wife in the sense of having to watch everything I do,” she said.
“I think any concern I would have would be, `I am trying to do a real job and I am a person in my own right.”’