WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich beat his main GOP presidential rival, Mitt Romney, to the punch by releasing his most recent tax return. But Gingrich still hasn't revealed how he earned most of his $3.1 million.
The 2010 tax return made public last week shows that $2.4 million, more than three-fourths of Gingrich's income, came in payments he regularly received, in addition to his salary, from different businesses he ran before announcing his candidacy for president. Those businesses managed speaking engagements, appearance fees, consulting work, book and video deals and paid positions that Gingrich held in other groups.
Gingrich, who has demanded more transparency from Romney, doesn't identify where the money came from, including amounts he received from his consulting business.
The Associated Press requested details about Gingrich's income and the identities of who paid him for his services. The campaign has not decided whether it will release further information about Gingrich's income, spokesman R.C. Hammond said.
Other GOP presidential candidates, including Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, have provided details of such income. Romney's financial reports filed last year and his 2010 tax return released this week specify groups that paid him for appearances and how much he received. Santorum, who has yet to release his tax return, lists on a financial report the businesses that paid him as a consultant, payments he received serving on specific boards and activist groups, and money he earned as a FOX News contributor and a newspaper columnist.
The way Gingrich has earned a living in recent years has become an avenue for political attack by Romney. Romney charges that the $1.65 million Gingrich received from the government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac from 1999 to 2007 was for influence peddling, which Gingrich has denied. Romney also has demanded that Gingrich identify other clients who paid for his services and what he did for them, accusing Gingrich of "potentially wrongful activity."
"If you're getting paid by health companies, if your entities are getting paid by health companies that could benefit from a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you'd like. I call it influence-peddling," Romney told Gingrich.
Gingrich has accused Romney of attacking his consulting work out of political desperation, hoping to stifle Gingrich's rising popularity among GOP voters. Gingrich said he has never been a lobbyist.
But he is battling the perception that he was selling his influence, if not actually lobbying, as he campaigns to win Florida's GOP presidential primary on Tuesday. Gingrich has said he was exercising his rights as a citizen, not a lobbyist, in 2003 when he publicly advocated changes in Medicare. And he's argued that he and his group, which received millions from dozens of health-related businesses, made sure not to cross the line into lobbying when he met with congressional members and others to promote the Medicare changes sought by then President George W. Bush.
A liberal-leaning watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is urging a federal investigation of Gingrich's activities.
"Mr. Gingrich's claim that he simply engaged in 'public advocacy' doesn't pass the smell test," said Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director. "Mr. Gingrich was a lobbyist, and he should not be allowed to play word games with the American people."
To make its case that Gingrich was lobbying, Sloan's group cites the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which defines a lobbyist as someone who receives payment for services from a client, makes more than one lobbying contact for the client on an issue and spends at least 20 percent of their time in a three-month period on lobbying activities. A lobbying contact is defined as communication on behalf of a client regarding "the formulation, modification or adoption of federal legislation."
Gingrich's tax return doesn't show how much money he received as a consultant working through his Gingrich Group and his Center for Health Transformation. The center urges changes to health-related policies and laws, practices and technology but says it "does not provide lobbying services nor directly or indirectly participate in lobbying activities of any kind." Instead, all of Gingrich's income is lumped together as $2.4 million in payments from Gingrich Holdings, a sort of parent company managing his interests in other businesses.
The Center for Health Transformation served more than 100 companies in 2010, with some paying as much as $200,000 a year to join Gingrich's organization. While the center has said it generated $55 million from hundreds of corporate sponsors from 2001 to 2010 with Gingrich leading the effort, it said it won't release a list of clients due to confidentiality clauses in its contracts.
Last year as he prepared for the presidential run, Gingrich sold his interest in the Gingrich Group and the Center for Health Transformation. He hasn't said how much he received in the buyout, but his financial disclosure form shows his Gingrich Productions is owed between $5 million and $25 million from the Gingrich Group.
Gingrich's tax return also doesn't show how much he received from his Fox News contract as a frequent on-air contributor. That contract was managed by Gingrich Communications, a business that handles his appearances and speaking engagements.
Last fall when Gingrich was first denying ever working as a lobbyist, he told a South Carolina audience that he didn't need to walk the halls of Congress to make a living because of the bounty he received in speaking fees.
"I'm going to be really direct, OK? I was charging $60,000 a speech. And the number of speeches was going up, not down," he said.
Gingrich has not identified the groups that paid him for those speeches.
Gingrich also continued to earn money as an author, although it's not clear how much of his earnings came from payments received by Gingrich Communications from his books.
While the $2.4 million in Gingrich's business payments are not detailed, the tax return does identify more than $712,000 of other income:
—$252,500 for his salary from Gingrich Holdings;
—$191,827 for his wife's salary from Gingrich Productions and $5,918 from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington as a member of the church's professional choir;
—$76,200 for his congressional pension;
—$72,274 from his share of his daughter's business;
—$38,637 for dividend and interest payments;
—$33,124 in tax refunds;
—$21,625 in speaking fees paid directly to Gingrich and not his businesses;
—$20,000 for him and his wife for serving on boards of directors. The boards are not identified.
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