In the Savannah Morning News, Larry Peterson concludes that a 2004 trip by Newt Gingrich constituted lobbying under Georgia law as it existed at the time.
[I]n 2004, Georgia had a looser standard. People who were paid to promote products or companies to lawmakers or if they spent more than $250 on such efforts were considered lobbyists under the law. And they were required to register.
William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia political watchdog group, says [Gingrich’s 2004 Georgia] activity would have subjected Gingrich to the registration requirement.
“It sounds like he was telling legislators that contracting with certain companies would save the state X amount of dollars and he was paid to advocate that a company get a contract,” Perry said. “If that isn’t lobbying, I don’t know what is.”
Such activities are no longer enough to trigger the registration requirement because new criteria have been added to the Georgia law since 2004.
Much of Peterson’s story is based on an earlier story in the New York Times that mentions a March 2004 trip by Newt to Georgia to address legislators; Gingrich denies that his activities were lobbying as defined by the then-Ethics in Government Act. At issue is Newt’s activity on behalf of his Center for Health Transformation, part of the larger “Newt, Inc.” money machine.
Two years before the Florida “summit,” Mr. Gingrich made a presentation to Republican lawmakers in Georgia, promoting the work of his member companies by citing specific benefits if they were hired. For example: “VitalSpring could save the State Employee Program over $20 million a year.”
At his discussion with Georgia House Republicans in 2004, Mr. Gingrich gave examples of companies whose services could “both improve health and start saving money,” according to the center’s summary of his presentation. His talk included a handout listing mostly members of the center, their contact information and a description of their services.
Kelly McCutchen, the policy foundation’s president, said that Mr. Gingrich was good at convincing state lawmakers of the merits of modernizing health care, and that citing cutting-edge companies was effective.
In asserting that Mr. Gingrich has never engaged in lobbying, his aides say lawyers have thoroughly vetted all of his activities. Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who has represented Mr. Gingrich since his days as House speaker, said none of Mr. Gingrich’s clients paid him to adopt a position that he did not already have.
“That matters a lot,” Mr. Evans said, “because there was never a point where we identified a client’s position first and decided, ‘O.K., that’s where we’re going.’ His vision always came first.”
Mr. Evans said that when Mr. Gingrich appeared to be promoting the services of his clients before state lawmakers, he was merely citing examples to buttress his ideas, and that the companies “weren’t paying him to do that.” Mr. Gingrich would also include examples from firms that were not center members, he said.
Ben Smith at Politico.com analyzes the distinction between “registered lobbying” and “lobbying” as defined by the federal act that covers lobbyists’ disclosure:
But this is a technicality, and a common stretch of the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act. Gingrich — and the Obama campaign — use the term “lobbyist” to mean “registered lobbyist.” But that’s not how the act defines the term. Indeed, it’s legally perfectly possible to engage in lobbying without being required to register as a lobbyist.
The LDA defines “lobbying activity” as “any efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation or planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time of its preparation, for use in contacts and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.”
Activities of the Center for Health Transformation – creating reports for member companies that validated and promoted their practices, which the companies used to influence federal policies and officials – certainly falls within this definition of “lobbying activity.” Electronic records company Availity, for example, a member company of CHT, appeared in CHT white papers advocating their products specifically.
In another post on Politico, Smith suggests that the 2004 meeting may have constituted lobbying under the Georgia act then in effect.
But according to Georgia lobbying laws, those meetings appear to have constituted lobbying — given that VitalSpring was a dues-paying member of CHT.
The state’s lobbying laws have recently changed, adding a 10 percent threshold for amount of time spent on lobbying activities — but in 2004, the two main requirements for lobbyist registration were compensation for promoting products or companies to lawmakers, or spending over $250 on those promotion activities.
William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, says Gingrich should have been a registered lobbyist in the state.
“If he was receiving compensation — and it doesn’t have to be compensation for lobbying [specifically] — and you have a meeting with legislators to try to get either something passed or you’re representing a vendor, you’d have to register,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether these charges by the media –and that’s all it is right now– will be a problem for Gingrich or just another distraction. But either way, this probably isn’t the kind of focus on Georgia that the Gingrich campaign wants.