Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich

Talking for Cash

Mitt Romney generated a bit of a flap back in January when he said he got “speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

According to his financial disclosure statements, from February 2010 to February 2011, that “not very much” added up to $374,327.62 in the 12 months before February 2011.

Words, like so many other things, have become a commodity that can go up or down in value, based on who’s uttering them and why. Celebrities, whether political, journalistic, sports or entertainment, can often command big fees for the star power they can bring to an event. Others, like a struggling author hoping to generate some attention for a book or a candidate trying to break into the headlines, may be more willing to make an investment of time and energy, without regard to whether they will actually get paid.

Back in 1965, when she was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Elly Peterson helped organize 10 dinners around the state on the same night, each featuring a prominent Republican. The goal was to help the party reduce its campaign debts. Ten Republicans, including New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, accepted the invitations. But Ronald Reagan, who was then making speeches as a warm-up to runinng for governor in California, did not. “He would come only if he got a big percentage of the take or $20,000 flat,” Peterson recalled. “He didn’t come. We didn’t want him. Overnight we paid off a big sum.”

Reagan apparently continued this practice until the mid-1970s, when, the late Lyn Nofziger recalled, aides advised him that this was the way to build political loyalty. Thus, I found it interesting that in the year before he was planning to mount a campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney apparently decided to charge a substantial amount for making speeches of his own.

Now Romney’s not the only one, of course. Newt Gingrich said his going rate is $60,000 a speech, and former presidents like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton can command even more. Setting a high fee is also, arguably, a way to keep every small-town Chamber of Commerce or second-string trade association from bugging, It’s like the old adage, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Call me old-fashioned or call me merely jealous, but I’m troubled by the idea of politicians making money this way. Certainly, Mitt Romney is  now talking for free to whomever will take the time to listen to him. But one wonders whether there might be a bit more enthusiasm for him today, if he had given a bit more time a few years ago to share his passion for free, rather than to line his pockets.

Especially when he wasn’t exactly going hungry.


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The Michigan GOP Presidential Primary, 1976

As the Republican presidential primary race has unfolded this year, commentators have noted that all the campaign contributions and televised ads mean little if a candidate doesn’t have an organization. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, failed to meet the somewhat stringent requirements to get on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Virginia, the state where he now lives.

President Gerald R. Ford nearly suffered the same fate in 1976. The Ford campaign, it turns out, came very close to missing the filing deadline for the Republican presidential primary in Michigan, Ford’s home state.

The little-known story turns up in the personal papers of Elly Peterson, the moderate Republican leader who is the subject of my recent book, Elly Peterson: ‘Mother’ of the Moderates. Peter Fletcher, then the Republican national committeeman from Michigan, also recounted it when he provided a videotaped oral history for the Michigan Political History Society. On March 15, 1976, four days before the primary’s filing deadline, Fletcher discovered that the Ford campaign had failed to file the necessary papers to get the incumbent president’s name on the Michigan primary ballot.

Peterson was an old friend of Fletcher’s; at that point, she was serving as the volunteer co-chair of ERAmerica, but had not yet been recruited to join the Ford campaign. Fletcher wrote and told her that when he had tried to alert the President Ford Committee, “the big legal brains said I was wrong. Sent them back to their law books and they called back confessing I was right.” Fletcher was asked to go to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and wait so that he could hand-deliver the appropriate papers after they arrived on a plane. He told Peterson they never arrived. He concluded cynically: “Renews my confidence in the strong hands of leadership in which we have entrusted the future of our nation.” Fletcher eventually received the affidavits, and said he delivered them with only two hours to spare.

Ford’s name went on the ballot, and he beat Ronald Reagan in the May 18 primary by a margin of 2 to 1, stemming a tide of primary defeats that might have ended his presidential election hopes right there. That night, he captured 55 delegates to 29 for Reagan.  Reagan eventually lost at the convention by a margin of 1,187 delegates for Ford to 1,070 for Reagan. If Reagan had captured all 84 Michigan delegates in that topsy-turvy campaign year, it might have made the decisive difference in the race.

Stuart Spencer, deputy chairman of the Ford campaign, later said, “I have always maintained—and a lot of his right-wing friends think I am nuts—that Reagan was lucky he got beaten in the 1976 primaries. He would not have won that race: Jimmy Carter was going to carry the South, and without the South, Reagan could not have won in 1976. But come 1980, after Carter had basically had a bad presidency, Reagan was the beneficiary. He has always been a lucky politician.”

As this year’s Republican primary battle drags on, actually being on the ballot becomes more and more critical.


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Lies and Name Calling

The 2012 election season is just getting under way, and already it’s a pretty sorry mess. What I find so dispiriting is when otherwise intelligent people lie with a straight face–and no one in their party feels compelled to call them on it.

I’m not talking about name-calling, or looking at a set of economic data and interpreting it differently than I might, or interpreting legislative votes in ways that a reasonable person might consider unfair. No, I’m talking about lies.

But first my usual digression back to the past. . . .

Elly Peterson was not a rabid partisan–certainly not by today’s standards. But there were at least four periods in her life when she was called on to stir up her audiences with negative images of her opponents. The first was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, and she was assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee. The second was the same year, when she ran for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Phil Hart of Michigan. Although she had a great deal of respect for Hart, she managed to find some points on which to challenge him, including his ties to Johnson. The third was when she served as co-chair of ERAmerica, and was called on to counter Phyllis Schlafly and other opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment. The fourth was in 1982, when she opposed her party’s nominee for governor of Michigan, Richard Headlee.

I began my research of Peterson’s life in 2005, and reviewed her first stint at the RNC relatively early in my research. I found that during that period she had directed the preparation of what she called “Mabel cards,” postcards that Republican women could send to their friends, with bullet points that criticized Johnson administration policies.  In my first draft, I wrote that one version suggested Johnson’s “economic policies amounted to socialism. ”

Rereading what I had written a few years, and a new president later, I thought, “Whoa, did she call Johnson ‘a socialist’?”  The context had changed quite a bit in the ensuing years. So I dug out my notes, and decided to include a fuller quote, namely that one card had likened a Johnson quotation—“We are going to take all the money that we think is unnecessarily being spent and take from the ‘haves’ and give to the ‘have nots’ that need it so much”–to the words of Karl Marx. At least in this case, the recipient of the card could judge for herself, even if the context for the Johnson quotation was not made explicitly clear.

But that’s different, say, from asserting  that Lyndon Johnson was born in the Mexican Territory, and thus not eligible to be president.

Last month, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said on the floor of the Senate that abortion was “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does. After fact-checkers set the record straight, Kyl’s staff said that th speech “was not intended to be a factual statement.” 

A few days ago, Newt Gingrich announced he was running for president and then sat for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post subsequently dissected all of the lies and half-truths the one-time history professor shared with his audience, ultimating awarding him four “Pinnochios” for his performance.  What I found most appalling was the effort to turn Attorney General Eric Holder into a boogeyman for alleged ties to terrorists, including “writing papers for them.” The lies were so breathtaking that Kessler had to guess at what tenuous connection Gingrich was trying to make. At best, it appeared that Holder might have worked for a law firm whose lawyers had provided representation for defendants charged with terrorist crimes.

Last time I checked, the right to representation was one of the principles embodied in our form of democratic government.

We can count on outlets like PolitiFacts, and fact-checkers with mainstream media and late-night comedy news hosts to shine a spotlight on this kind of stuff. But sure would be nice if some of the Defenders of Freedom spoke up about it occasionally.

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