* Candidate says he offered ‘strategic advice’
* His firm got between $1.6 million and $1.8 million
* Freddie Mac says Gingrich was consulting, not lobbying
By Kay Henderson
URBANDALE, Iowa, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich acknowledged on Wednesday that he had received consulting fees from troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac for providing “strategic advice.”
Campaigning in Iowa, Gingrich said he did not believe he was contracted by the government-controlled housing finance giant as a friendly voice who would avoid criticizing it.
“I was approached. I was glad to offer strategic advice and we did it for a number of companies and Gingrich Group was very successful,” he told reporters.
He was reacting to a Bloomberg News story that said he had been paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with Freddie Mac, the nation’s second-largest provider of mortgage funds.
The story said Gingrich’s first contract with Freddie Mac began five months after he resigned in 1999 from Congress and as speaker of the House of Representatives. His last contract ended in 2008, it said.
Freddie Mac and its larger competitor, Fannie Mae, have soaked up about $169 billion in federal aid since they were rescued by the government in 2008 as mortgage losses mounted. Both companies were chartered by Congress to foster a liquid mortgage market.
Gingrich has been rising in polls of Republican voters in recent weeks as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Mitt Romney. He stands a chance of winning Iowa, which on Jan. 3 holds the first U.S. nominating contest in the race to decide the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Like other Republican candidates, Gingrich has advocated the two mortgage firms be shut down. Many Democrats agree with that position, although they want to ensure the government retains some role supporting the housing sector.
Gingrich said his advice to Freddie Mac was about ways to expand housing opportunities for people “whether they’re African American, or Latino or of any background.”
Bloomberg cited former Freddie Mac officials familiar with the work Gingrich did for the firm in 2006 as saying he was asked to establish ties with Republicans on Capitol Hill and develop an argument on behalf of its public-private structure to counter a conservative push to dismantle it.
A Freddie Mac spokesperson said Gingrich was a consultant and not a lobbyist for the firm, but declined to elaborate.
“The Gingrich Group offered strategic advice to a wide variety of clients about a wide variety of issues, including IBM, Microsoft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more,” Gingrich’s campaign said in a statement. “Gingrich Group fees were comparable to that of many consulting firms.”
Gingrich, who was one of many political heavyweights hired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the housing boom, has a long history as a Washington insider. He said his knowledge of the ways of Washington would set him apart from Obama.
“It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington and if you want to change Washington, we just tried four years of amateur ignorance and it didn’t work very well, so having somebody who knows Washington might be a really good thing,” he said.