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Newt Gingrich denies that his 2003 advocacy for Medicare expansion was lobbying

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says he was never a lobbyist. But three US representatives, including former New Hampshire Representative Jeb Bradley, have said Gingrich did in fact lobby them – whether he met the technical definition of a lobbyist or not.

Bradley told the Globe that he remembers Gingrich, in 2003, advocating in favor of the legislation that created the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit before a group of around 10 members of Congress. “I think the average person would see it as lobbying plain and simple,” Bradley said.

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Today, the Des Moines Register reported that US Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona and former Representative Butch Otter of Idaho said Gingrich lobbied them in 2003 to vote for the Medicare prescription drug benefit program.

Speaking to reporters at the Southbridge Mall in Mason City, Iowa, Gingrich strongly denied that his advocacy for the legislation constituted lobbying. He said a citizen can advocate without being a lobbyist. “I’m allowed to say as a citizen, ‘I’d like to see this passed,’ ” Gingrich said. “That’s not lobbying. I wasn’t paid by anybody to say that.”

Flake, Otter, and Bradley all support presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Gingrich has said consistently that he is not a lobbyist, but a consultant, who made millions of dollars giving advice to companies, including health care companies. Gingrich told CNBC earlier this month, “I do no lobbying; I’ve never done any lobbying. It’s written in our contracts that we do not do any lobbying of any kind. I offer strategic advice.”

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said that as a former House speaker and member of Congress for 20 years, Gingrich was frequently invited by House leadership to speak to groups of Republican members, like the one Bradley described. Hammond said Gingrich was invited to speak as an expert, not as a lobbyist, on issues such as health care, taxes, and spending. He was not paid to be there.

It is true that Gingrich has never registered as a lobbyist. To be required to register, a lobbyist must meet certain conditions, including spending 20 percent of his time for a particular client working on “lobbying activities.” He must be paid by the client to have at least two contacts with lawmakers or staffers.

Flake and Otter told the Iowa newspaper that proponents of the bill brought in Gingrich, who told them, “If you can’t pass this bill, you don’t deserve to govern as Republicans.” The bill ultimately passed the House with a narrow margin. Several Republicans opposed it because it was seen as expanding an entitlement program and increasing the deficit.

Bradley, who supported the Medicare legislation, said he attended a different meeting than Flake and Otter. At that meeting, which took place at the National Republican Congressional Committee, Bradley said Gingrich promoted the idea of health savings accounts. He also told the members of Congress why he believed Medicare should be expanded to cover prescription drugs. “He was talking about things like it made no sense for Medicare to pay for heart surgery but not Lipitor, for benefits that would alleviate the symptoms and perhaps prevent heart attacks,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he was not aware at the time that Gingrich had clients who were health care companies. Bradley said he does not know whether Gingrich met the official description of a lobbyist, but the average person would likely see his actions as lobbying. When Bradley heard Gingrich claim he had never lobbied, Bradley said, “I said wait a minute, I remember Part D. it seemed like lobbying to me.”

Bradley, now a New Hampshire state senator, served in the US House from 2003 to 2007.

Gingrich, in Iowa, said he took a public position for a practical reason. He reiterated the comments that Bradley attributed to him about why he supported the legislation. “We had a Medicare program that said, ‘We will not pay for you to have Lipitor, but we’ll be glad to give you open-heart surgery. We will not pay for insulin, but we’ll be glad to give you kidney dialysis.’ This was my public position. I’d been taking it for months,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich continued: “So when members of Congress said to me, ‘Gee, what do you think I ought to do?’ I said, ‘Frankly, it’s a lot better health system, if you help people have preventive care than if you wait for the more expensive solution.’ That was a public position, taken publicly and is literally, by definition, not lobbying.”

Globe reporter Michael Levenson contributed to this story. Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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