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Newt, Inc: “Historical Entrepreneur Of The Year”

Voters haven’t heard much about it, but Newt Gingrich hasn’t exactly held a real job in a very long time. He has, however, overseen a very lucrative enterprise often called “Newt Inc.”

Gingrich, you’ll recall, was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace way back in 1998, after his fellow Republicans decided they no longer had use for his kind of “leadership.” In the 13 years since, the former House Speaker hasn’t held or sought public office at any level.

What’s he been doing? Karen Tumulty and Dan Eggen take a look today at the “business conglomerate” Gingrich put together after his political career was left in shambles.

The power of the Gingrich brand fueled a for-profit collection of enterprises that generated close to $100 million in revenue over the past decade, said his longtime attorney Randy Evans.

Among Gingrich’s moneymaking ventures: a health-care think tank financed by six-figure dues from corporations; a consulting business; a communications firm that handled his speeches of up to $60,000 a pop, media appearances and books; a historical documentary production company; a separate operation to administer the royalties for the historical fiction that Gingrich writes with two co-authors; even an in-house literary agency that has counted among its clients a presidential campaign rival, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

Separate from all of that was his nonprofit political operation, American Solutions for Winning the Future. Before it disintegrated this summer in Gingrich’s absence, American Solutions generated another $52 million and provided some of the money that allowed the former speaker to travel by private jet and hired limousine.

Along the way, Gingrich has become a wealthy man, earning $2.5 million in personal income last year, according to his financial disclosure form.

It’s not altogether clear what, exactly, Gingrich has done with his days. He’s been paid handsomely for his “strategic advice,” which the disgraced former Speaker insists was not technically lobbying. Gingrich has also given plenty of speeches, made near-constant appearances on television, and adopted a rather luxurious personal lifestyle, but in terms of actual work, the record appears to be pretty thin.

In any case, while the Post’s piece is a good one, the one thing it doesn’t fully convey is just how sketchy — and at times, even sleazy — Gingrich’s operation has been.

As part of his shady financial empire, for example, Gingrich ran a dubious direct-mail scheme, offering to name random businesspeople as “entrepreneur of the year” in exchange for a $5,000 “membership fee” to Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future.

In one rather amusing example, Gingrich offered to name a strip-club owner as “entrepreneur of the year” for $5,000. When the nude-dancing entrepreneur accepted, Gingrich’s embarrassed staff canceled the 2009 award and returned the money — only to hit the exact same strip-club owner up for more cash two years later.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. Gingrich has overseen all kinds of entities, all of which have raised a lot of money over the last several years, without much to show for it. Not surprisingly, the whole operation has drawn some quizzical looks.

[C]onsumer advocates and some disgruntled donors have raised questions over the years about Gingrich’s seeming penchant for aggressive tactics, including the heavy use of fundraising polls, blast-faxes and other techniques considered unsavory or even predatory by philanthropy groups. […]

According to complaints on consumer-focused Web sites, some American Solutions calls begin with slanted polling questions before proceeding to a request for money. The tactic, known as “fundraising under the guise of research,” or frugging, is discouraged as unethical by trade groups such as the Marketing Research Association.

American Solutions also has drawn criticism because it spends nearly $2 on fundraising for every $3 it brings in — about twice the figure for many nonprofit groups, experts said.

Given the fact that Gingrich was plagued by ethics scandals during his congressional tenure, coupled with his business ventures over the last 13 years, it’s hard to have much confidence in this guy’s sense of propriety.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, November 27, 2011

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney On Foreclosurers: ‘Any Owners Who Lose Their Homes Are Getting What They Deserve’

Since the housing bubble began to burst six years ago, prices nationwide have fallen by a third. Nearly $7 trillion of home equity has been wiped out. Currently, some 14.7 million homeowners owe $700 billion more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Going forward, prices are likely to fall further as banks put a backlog of foreclosed properties on the market. As home prices fall and more homeowners sink underwater, there will be more foreclosures and more price declines.

So what is Mitt Romney’s response? Bring it on.

In interviews and in the Republican presidential debates, Mr. Romney has said that the cure for foreclosures is for the government to get out of the way and let the process run its course. Once prices hit bottom, investors and want-to-be homeowners would presumably swoop in and prices would stabilize.

The argument might have some red-meat appeal, playing off the notion that any owners who lose their homes are getting what they deserve. It is wrong on several counts:

Efficiency.

Mass foreclosures are a rotten way to stabilize the market. They impose huge costs on neighbors, communities and local governments, and on the broader economy, as falling prices erode equity, depress consumer spending and mire the housing market in a deep hole.

Logic.

Who does Mr. Romney think will buy up millions of foreclosed properties? Borrowers who lose their homes to foreclosure or who sell their homes for less than the balance on their mortgages can be denied credit for years; many will never be homeowners again.

Many college graduates, unable to find jobs, are moving in with their parents, not starting careers, not starting families and not becoming first-time home buyers. High school graduates are despairing of any economic toehold. Investors are inclined to buy distressed properties only if they believe home values will rise, a confidence that is hard to come by in a market that is threatened by more foreclosures and renewed price declines.

Danger.

With the economy still weak and vulnerable to shocks, more foreclosures and the resulting price declines would only weaken the economy further.

Fairness.

The let-it-crash argument conveniently ignores that the housing bubble was the result not only of overborrowing but of reckless lending too. When the bubble burst, the banks were bailed out, while speculators and uncreditworthy borrowers — whom lenders had aggressively pursued during the boom — quickly began to lose their properties. But the economic damage went far beyond the “bad” borrowers, as evidenced by deep recession, ensuing slow growth, high unemployment and crashing home values — all of which has now harmed millions of homeowners who never went near a subprime mortgage. They are the collateral damage of the banks’ binge and bailout. They deserve help, not scorn.

That is not to say that every troubled borrower can be saved. Of the estimated 14.7 million underwater borrowers, 1.6 million are lost causes, according to Moody’s Analytics. Many have already abandoned their homes, leaving them vacant, or are hopelessly behind on their payments, often because of long-term unemployment. This group needs policies to help convert homes to rentals.

Another 1.6 million underwater borrowers have missed payments because of a setback, like job loss, that may prove temporary. They could be helped with forbearance, allowed to make no or reduced payments for a time, and make up the difference later, or with loan modifications that result in meaningfully smaller payments.

The remaining 11.5 million underwater homeowners are current in their payments, but are at high risk of default, since they have no equity to cushion a financial setback and no incentive to keep paying, especially if prices go down again.

Loan modifications that reduce principal balances are the best solution, because they restore equity and reduce monthly payments. The banks would take a hit on principal write-downs. So be it. Refinancings, which the Obama administration is in the process of expanding, also help, because a new loan with a lower rate makes staying in the home more affordable. Mr. Romney has said refinancing is “worth further consideration.” Investors in mortgage-backed securities will take a hit on refinancings. So be it.

At a recent debate, Mr. Romney was asked why he was willing to risk further huge losses in home equity by pushing foreclosures. “What would you do instead?” he replied. “Have the federal government go out and buy all the homes in America?”

No one is suggesting that. What is needed is a set of policies — rentals, forbearance, principal write-downs and refinancings — on a scale that tackles the problem.

By: The New York Times, Editorial, November 26, 2011

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Banks | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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