The Gingriches and Tiffany: When a loan becomes lobbying

By Felix Salmon
May 25, 2011
explainers and analysis of the deal that Newt Gingrich and his wife had with Tiffany, one crucial point seems to have been missed. So well done to SpyTalk for picking up on this:

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Amid all the convoluted explainers and analysis of the deal that Newt Gingrich and his wife had with Tiffany, one crucial point seems to have been missed. So well done to SpyTalk for picking up on this:

At the same time Tiffany & Co. was extending Callista (Bisek) Gingrich a virtual interest-free loan of tens of thousands of dollars, the diamond and silverware firm was spending big bucks to influence mining policy in Congress and in agencies over which the House Agriculture Committee–where she worked–had jurisdiction, official records show…

Tiffany’s annual lobbying expenditures rose from about $100,000 to $360,000 between 2005 and 2009, according to records assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan government watchdog organization.

There’s enough confusion over the Tiffany’s deal that it certainly looks unusual — while Tiffany’s does extend interest-free loans of up to one year to top clients, Gingrich’s account was open for two consecutive years, despite the fact that Gingrich claimed to be paying no interest on it. And in any case it seems unwise, to say the least, to accept an interest-free loan of more than $250,000 from a company which is lobbying your committee — no matter how rare or common such loans might be.

There’s an irony here: we only know the loan was interest-free because Newt Gingrich went on TV to say so, in order to try to portray himself as fiscally prudent. But now we do know that, the loan begins to look more like an undisclosed lobbying expenditure on the part of Tiffany. Which in many ways is even worse for Gingrich. There must be official rules about accepting interest-free loans from companies lobbying your committee. Is there a case to be made that Callista Gingrich broke those rules?

Update: I just spoke to Newt Gingrich’s press secretary, Rick Tyler. He said that the deal the Gingriches got was the same one that Tiffany’s offers to anybody else: interest free financing for 12 months. And that all debt with Tiffany’s was paid off within a 12-month period. If there was hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt outstanding for a second consecutive year, which there was, then that was new debt, associated with new jewelry purchases.

Is it OK for a Congressional staffer to accept an interest-free loan from a company which is lobbying that staffer’s committee, just so long as the same offer is available to the public generally? I’m not sure about that. But Tyler, for one, sees no problem there.

Update 2: Tiffany spokesman Carson Glover emails to say that the company’s lobbying was aimed at the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over mining, and not the Agriculture Committee, where Callista Gingrich worked. This is more persuasive to me than what Tyler is saying: if SpyTalk is wrong that Ag has jurisdiction over mining, it’s much harder to say that there’s anything scandalous here beyond the sheer amount of money that the Gingriches spend on jewels annually.

Comments
20 comments so far

Look, just like when it comes to fidelity, there are two sets of rules for getting money from lobbyists: those that apply to everybody but Gingrich, and a null set for Gingrich.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Next: Newt gallantly expresses outrage at the attacks on his wife. “How dare they insinuate …” etc etc etc

Posted by Basilisc | Report as abusive

campaign over. game, set, match.

Posted by photoguy | Report as abusive

It really is monumentally stupefying that Gingrich would even choose to run, knowing this was “on his books” so to speak. It demonstrates not only his recklessness, but his limitless hubris. The GOP seems to have embarked on a secret conspiracy to get Obama reelected.

Posted by EricVincent | Report as abusive

From the 2008 House Ethics Manual (p. 27) (I’m too lazy to search for a newer version):

This Committee has cautioned all Members “to avoid situations in which even an inference might be drawn suggesting improper action.” Members, officers, and employees must always exercise discretion concerning the acceptance of gifts or favors from persons who are not relatives, and particularly gifts or favors that would not have been offered “but for” the individual‘s position in Congress. Among the factors that one must consider are the source and value of a gift, the frequency of gifts from one source, the possible motives of the donor, and possible conflicts of interest with official duties.

And remember, compared to rest of the sludge that constitutes our political class, Gingrich is smart.

Posted by Eric_H | Report as abusive

I’ve never been offered free financing at Tiffany’s. Maybe I’m not a big enough spender.

Posted by JohnM1974 | Report as abusive

Being “not sure” is a cheap cop out. Think this through, face your confirmation bias head on and then admit that the new information, if it is really true, changes your point of view.

Posted by random_trader | Report as abusive

“And remember, compared to rest of the sludge that constitutes our political class, Gingrich is smart.”

Gingrich has always been clever at branding himself as “smart.” That doesn’t mean that he is. He has consistently demonstrated himself to be quite dumb. This episode is but the latest example to wit.

Newt reads history books, spouts quotes from them, and waves his big banner proclaiming, “I’M SMART!” Then he proceeds to say and do the most stupid things. The man indicts himself like a rope-weaver begging to be hanged. A more pathetic creature of American politics would be ashamed… oh, but wait, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are riding over the hill… rapture, anyone?

Posted by EricVincent | Report as abusive

Ugh, I hate when my comments are swallowed up by the internet monster. Second try:

The only charge account info I can find anywhere on the Tiffany & Co. website carries a variable APR and doesn’t appear to have a promotional interest rate at all. If a no-interest financing option is truly available to “anybody else”, I’d like to see more information on it. I’d post a link to the Terms and Conditions page but I suspect that’s what flagged my previous comment attempt.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

what would tiffany want to lobby newt for?

Posted by Worsel | Report as abusive

@random_trader, I did a straw poll last night, and the general consensus was that a Congressional staffer should definitely NOT accept a six-figure interest-free loan from a company lobbying her committee, even if that loan was available to anybody else. I’m inclined to agree.

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive

I personally think that the “anybody else” part of the equation is relevant. If anybody else = everybody else, as in literally anyone can get a no interest loan, then that would sway my opinion. I can’t see how that would be different than him paying cash for said jewelry. I mean would we feel the same way if he took out a no interest loan for a lawnmower at Sears (assuming Sears was also lobbying him at the time)? I can’t say that I’d care but that’s just me.

Now if anybody else = any kind of exclusive group of clients, then there is preferential treatment involved and I would agree that this is ethically wrong.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

I have a short-term interest free Lowes account, and have no lobbying interest. How is this any different?

Posted by odwagerty | Report as abusive

odwagerty, he has a 500k running tab at Tiffany’s with no interest. YOU have a 500k no interest account at Lowes? Cool… is Lowes lobbying for something which you have an interest in? Cool, and what are those?

Are you also running on a campaign which says you are “frugal” and “pay the bills? Running a 500k tab at Tiffany’s may not be what the taxpayers consider frugal. Do you?

So given the update, he or she has racked up 500k of purchases this year alone? Regardless of your absolutely incredibly close analogy *cough* he is a public figure and so it is being scrutinized. It isn’t that he “spends” the money there… it is the interest free loan and the idea that there may be other “incentives” which are offered.

Felix is correct that here must be official rules about accepting interest-free loans from companies lobbying your committee.

Tiffany’s Lobby “efforts” may not all be disclosed, in other words…(see URL below)

http://tinyurl.com/3pgkwbb

This exactly the type of off books lobbying efforts which are not disclosed, for obvious reasons, and why gifts and freebies are not to be accepted lest they be thought to be bribes or kickbacks. (whether they are or not) Your Lowes account is the same?

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

I have read the updates now.

The disclosure by Cassidy & Associates also lists former Gingrich legislative assistant Christy Evans as a lobbyist for the organization. I guess that kind of revolving door is normal there… so it is ok that the connection exists. (When our country’s Government started to look like the mob ran it we vocalized our contempt for being Governed like that… and the scandal ended. That is what ethic committees are for)

I looked at the list of resources that AG is responsible for and mining is Natural resources. Although water use and land use overlap, it is unlikely the committees overlapped on mining, so it is less likely that portion is still a story.

I think if the man is rich he is entitled to spend it as he wishes, but he has filed that he has 500k racked up in unpaid bills at a jewellery store. How can that not be an issue for a man running on “frugality” and “paying his bills” kinda guy… like you and me…

A man running on a family values platform who leaves 2 wives who have MS and Cancer and marries a third which he has to “keep” in jewels is not a man of integrity who can be trusted … but is that merely the female in me talking that I can’t pat him on the back and call it bravado?

I would never vote for him for his constant flip flopping, his partisan politics, his lack of integrity and lies, his blaming love of country for his misdeeds, and this would merely be insurance…. if I lived in your country that is. After watching the likes of Trump, Palin et al being considered contenders for President, I suppose he is still a contender…

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

And just in case people have short memories or are young and didn’t know, and fluff off the Tiffany’s non event the ethics of the man do not just play a part at home; the lack of character is evident in his politics.

His lily white campaign was begun after he began to control his own media campaign for Repugnant republicans like himself (he is a one man propaganda machine) and mudslinging videos against democrats. When the press maligns him, he fights back… dirty because his past holds some real dirt:

http://www.esquire.com/features/newt-gin grich-0910

http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/0 5/newt-gingrich-and-hospital-room

http://motherjones.com/politics/1984/11/ newt-gingrich-shining-knight-post-reagan -right

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

over and over and over
Newt and Callista
Callista and Newt
Newt and Callista
over and over and over

Posted by NadPauKucGraMcK | Report as abusive

Anybody else sick of this crap? Public Campaign Financing is our best hope. Get rid of every politician who is in the pocket of some lobby, and get people to run for office who weren’t born with a silver spoon in thier mouth, or who aren’t corrupted by unlimited corporate “contributions.” Balancing the budget would be much easier when you aren’t obligated to make sure that Exxon makes $50 billion this year. It’s too bad that they will destroy the economy by charging 50 times the lifting cost for a barrel of oil, and too bad that we are sending $1 billion in America’s wealth to OPEC EVERY DAY. aLSO, WE NEED TO ELIMINATE THE $106,000 INCOME CAP on Social Security contributions. When a guy making $106,000 contributes $6,800 per year, and a CEO who makes $50 million contributes the same $6,800, something is very wrong. WE could fund social security and medicare forever without cutting off poor kids school lunches by removing this cap, and most likely cut the contribution rate for EVERY AMERICAN to less than 4 percent. This is a prime example of how the Kings of Welfare often get off scott free,while the rest of us are expected to sacrifice so they can avoid paying ANY TAXES.

Posted by macthefloorguy | Report as abusive

Advice to the GOP, better dig up Reagan

Posted by macthefloorguy | Report as abusive

Advice to the GOP, better dig up Reagan

Posted by macthefloorguy | Report as abusive
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