URBANDALE, Iowa – Rising in polls and receiving greater scrutiny, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich found himself on the defensive Wednesday over huge payments he received over the past decade from the mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Gingrich said he didn’t remember exactly how much he was paid, but a person familiar with the hiring said it was at least $1.6 million for consulting contracts stretching from 1999 to early 2008.
Long unpopular among Republicans, federally backed Freddie Mac and its larger sister institution, Fannie Mae, have become targets for criticism stemming from the housing crisis.
Speaking with reporters in Iowa on Wednesday, Gingrich said he provided “strategic advice for a long period of time” after he resigned as House speaker following his party’s losses in the 1998 elections.
Gingrich’s history at Freddie Mac began in 1999, when he was hired by the company’s top lobbyist, Mitchell Delk. He was brought in for strategic consulting, primarily on legislative and regulatory issues, the company said at the time. That job, which paid about $30,000 a month, lasted until sometime in 2002.
In 2006, Gingrich was hired again on a two-year contract that paid him $300,000 annually, again to provide strategic advice while the company fended off attacks from the Republican Party.
In last Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate, Gingrich sought to explain his role at Freddie Mac as that of a “historian” sounding dire warnings about the company’s future.
Former executives dispute Gingrich’s description of his role.
Four people close to Freddie Mac say he was hired to strategize with his employer about identifying political friends on Capitol Hill who would help the company through a very difficult legislative environment.