Now along comes Newt Gingrich, the latest Republican to rise to the top of the polls after convincing a sufficient number of voters that he is not and never has been Mitt Romney. The vetting begins immediately of course, with every aspect of Gingrich's personal, professional and political background getting a serious look from journalists, bloggers and opposition researchers. And let's face it, it will be an embarrassment of riches.
Let's set aside for now Gingrich's personal life, specifically his three marriages, the last of which was the product of an extramarital affair while he was still married to wife No. 2. Too easy.
Of greater interest will be Gingrich's professional life since he left the Washington insider-y job of House speaker in 1998. Since then, Gingrich, never a small thinker, has presided over a wide network of quasi-political, business and academic projects that has raked in millions of dollars, a portion of it from businesses in need of a friend who can open Capitol Hill doors.
At the heart of the network is American Solutions for Winning the Future, Gingrich's 527 nonprofit that took in over $50 million in 2009 and 2010. When Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity took a look at the group's finances earlier this year, he found that $7 million in revenue, the largest amount from a single source, came from Sheldon Adelson, the multi-billionaire chairman of the Last Vegas Sands Casino. Adelson seems to be in constant need of friends in government. The Sands this years was the subject of a federal bribery probe, and late last year, a police raid of Adleson's Venetian Hotel resulted in the arrest of more than 100 prostitutes and their pimps on charges of running a sex ring.
Perhaps sensing that evangelical voters in pivotal states like Iowa would frown on a benefactor like Adelson, Stone reports that since 2009, Gingrich created two religious-oriented nonprofit groups that have raised over $5 million to aid causes backed by evangelicals.
Perhaps of even greater interest to the vetters will be Gingrich's business activities, which he calls "consulting," but which a few watchdog groups in town have called "lobbying." A year ago, the soon-to-be candidate found himself assuring a group of Wall Street Journal editors, not exactly a hostile audience, "I am not a lobbyist for ethanol." The center's research shows that Gingrich was a consultant to a coalition of ethanol producers called Growth Energy, which paid him $300,000 in 2009. And indeed, Gingrich is one of only two Republican candidates, the other is Romney, to adopt the anti-free market position that government should subsidize alternative fuels.
Lately, Gingrich has been trying to get away from the "consultant" label too, so readily does it remind some people of the word "lobbyist." At a Republican candidates' debate last week, Gingrich maintained that he was not a lobbyist for the housing-collapse-abetting Freddie Mac, but rather was paid $300,000 by the mortgage giant for his work as an "historian." (The number $300,000 tends to pop up in the financial research of Gingrich, whether it be for consulting or helping with history.)
Gingrich's activities since he left office create a detailed portrait of an insider's life, in a year Republican voters have embraced nontraditional resumes and candidates untarnished by the entrenched ways of Washington.
Let the vetting begin.