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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gingrich wife worked for committee heavily lobbied by Tiffany

 At the same time Tiffany & Co. was extending Callista (Bisek) Gingrich a virtual interest-free loan of tens of thousands of dollars, the diamond and silverware firm was spending big bucks to influence mining policy in Congress and in agencies over which the House Agriculture Committee--where she worked--had jurisdiction, official records show.

Filings by Tiffany’s lobbyist, Cassidy & Co., and other government records show that the firm’s spending on  “mining law and mine permitting-related issues” in Congress, as well as the Forest Service, the Interior Department, and Interior’s  Bureau of Land Management shot up sharply between during the period when Callista Gingrich was chief clerk at the House Agriculture Committee.

Tiffany's annual lobbying expenditures rose from about $100,000 to $360,000 between 2005 and 2009, according to records assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics,  a nonpartisan government watchdog organization. 

The Forest Service, which comes under the committee’s jurisdiction, oversees mining, including silver mining, in federal forests.

Silver, of course, is a big part of Tiffany & Co.’s business.

On Thursday, Tiffany issued a statement denying that it had lobbied the Agriculture Committee or discussed mining isues with Callista or Newt Gingrich.  But is was also reported that Christy Evans, a floor assistant to Republican Whip Rep. Newt Gingrich and now a lobbyist at Cassidy & Associates, has represented Tiffany's on mining issues since 2000.

Gingrich’s campaign Web site makes no specific mention of mining in its description of his wife’s duties.

“During her tenure, the Agriculture Committee held hearings on a wide range of issues including biotechnology, bioterrorism, conservation, forest management, nutrition, rural development, trade, and welfare reform,” it says.

According to her filings, Callista Gingrich listed debts to Tiffany of between $250,001 to $500,000 on a “revolving charge account”  during 2005-2006. After she left in 2007, she was no longer required to report her finances.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote that he was “puzzled” by Newt Gingrich’s “claim that he had a ‘standard, no-interest account’ at Tiffany & Co.”

“Would Tiffany really charge no interest for that period of time on that amount of money?” he asked.

Tiffany’s standard credit card application, Kessler noted, states that customers pay 21 per cent interest on unpaid bills. If Newt and Calista Gingrich paid no interest on a $250,000  balance, it would amount to an interest-free loan of $50,000.

Plus, they have the bling.

“Gingrich’s claim that he had a ‘standard, no-interest account” as part of the ‘normal way of doing business’ appears highly dubious,” Kessler continued. “Tiffany does not appear to provide such a revolving line of credit account to regular customers. And Callista Gingrich’s disclosure documents clearly show the debt was carried for at least two years.”

Gingrich referred further questions to Tiffany & Co., which is not talking.

“The fact that Tiffany won’t say a word — after Gingrich said to ‘go talk’ to them — certainly raises questions,” Kessler wrote.

He quoted John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, as saying that “carrying a balance of up to $500,000 and not paying interest is anything but ‘normal.’”

But Tiffany “isn't your normal retailer,” Ulzheimer added, “and upscale retailers are notorious for cutting special deals with VIPs like entertainers, athletes, and political figures.”

Entertainers and athletes, we understand: They flaunt the bling. But politicians?

What does Tiffany get from them in return?