Bob Dole won the lobbyists’ sweepstakes this week when he struck a deal with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Unlike the games people receive in the mail that promise them money for winning, lobbyists win when politicians become deeply in their debt. Speaker Gingrich is now $300,000 in Mr. Dole’s debt.
That is the amount of the loan the speaker accepted from the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate to pay off fines imposed for misidentifying one of his political organizations as a tax-exempt educational nonprofit group and for misleading investigators looking into the situation. The speaker had indicated that he was going to put an end to questions by getting a bank loan to settle the fine, but Thursday he announced Mr. Dole’s proposal.
Financially, it is a great deal for Speaker Gingrich. He would not have to pay on the loan, which includes a 10 percent interest charge, until 2005, when he would be readying to leave Congress, perhaps in search of a more lucrative career. If he decides not to pay on the principal or interest until then, the loan would amount to more than $600,000. Mr. Dole would be 81 by 2005, and could enjoy the money in his retirement if he chooses.
The offer from Mr. Dole seems to have caught many people, even those within the Republican Party, by surprise. The two men share the same political philisophy only approximately and the same style not at all. Speaker Gingrich once dubbed Mr. Dole the “tax collector for the welfare state.” And the ’94 Republican Revolution was sometimes thwarted in the Dole Senate. This loan is not one friend helping another.
It would, however, be nullified, according the contract the two signed, if Mr. Dole became a registered lobbyist. But that is not likely to happen. The Washington law firm he recently joined, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, has many large clients, including the tobacco industry, and could use Mr. Dole’s abilities without him ever having to get his hands messy in direct lobbying. (Former Maine Sen. George Mitchell also is a member of the firm.)
The debt, however, is there whether Mr. Dole is a registered or de facto lobbyist. Speaker Gingrich and the people he represents will be living with it for many years.