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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Wrestling with the Truth on Santorum’s Lobbying

The Mitt Romney campaign lifts a Rick Santorum quote out of context to level a charge that Santorum is being untruthful about his lobbying history.

The Romney campaign claims to have caught Santorum being “at odds with the facts” when he told CNN, “I was not a lobbyist.” The Romney camp points to press reports that say Santorum was a lobbyist in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s. However, Santorum’s statement to CNN came in response to a question about his post-Senate career. Santorum was never registered as a federal lobbyist after he left the Senate, though he was employed as a consultant by a lobbying firm.

On March 8, the Romney campaign issued a press release titled “Lobbyist/Congressman/Senator Rick Santorum: The Insider’s Insider.” Topping its list of backup points is the claim that “Senator Santorum vehemently denies ever being a lobbyist, but he indeed was a lobbyist in Pennsylvania before running for Congress.” It’s the second time the Romney campaign has made this claim in a press release, the first coming in a March 2 release titled “Santorum Misleads on Lobbying Record.

According to both releases, Santorum declared that he “never did any lobbying or even anything close to lobbying.” The release points to comments Santorum made on Feb. 24 on CNN: “I was not a lobbyist. I absolutely was not a lobbyist. I never did any lobbying or even anything close to lobbying.”

The Romney release claims that statement is contradicted by press reports that identified Santorum as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s before he ran for Congress.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile of Santorum on Sept. 11, 1994, while working for the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart for three years in the late 1980s, Santorum was a lobbyist for several clients of the law firm.

One of them: the World Wrestling Federation. That’s right, Newt Gingrich may be using Hulk Hogan’s iconic ring entry song, “Real American,” as campaign music these days, but it was Santorum who was fighting for the Hulkster back in the late 1980s. Santorum sought to get the WWF out from under the regulatory thumb of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission (and its requirement for ring doctors) and exempted from federal steroid regulations. Those were unnecessary, Santorum argued to the state Legislature, because professional wrestling is fake not a sport.

According to the Post-Gazette, Santorum was registered as a lobbyist for the WWF in 1997, 1998 and 1999. He also was registered as a lobbyist for Metropolitan Pittsburgh Public Broadcasting and QED Communications Inc., which operates two Pittsburgh public broadcasting stations, and Koppers Inc., a producer of carbon compounds, chemicals and treated wood products, the Post-Gazette reported.

A New York Times story on Jan. 19, 2012, also identified Santorum as “a lobbyist in Harrisburg” in the late 1980s.

So the claim that Santorum was repeatedly tagged as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania is accurate. But it’s not the “gotcha” the release makes it out to be. That’s because Santorum’s response on CNN was lifted out of context.

CNN Host Gloria Borger, Feb. 24: But Governor Romney would say you left your job in the Senate and became a lobbyist yourself, right?

Santorum: I was not a lobbyist. I absolutely was not a lobbyist. I never did a lobbying or even anything close to lobbying. I was out there working in the private sector. I was managing — I was a number two guy at a company, a start-up company, for three years. I was out writing. I was out lecturing on public policy. I was not a lobbyist.

As the fuller context makes clear, Santorum was responding to an accusation about being a federal lobbyist in Washington after he lost reelection in 2006. The lobbying in Harrisburg was prior to Santorum’s time in Congress.

Still, Santorum’s response wasn’t exactly airtight either. As we wrote when Texas Rep. Ron Paul called Santorum “a high-powered lobbyist in Washington, D.C.,” during a GOP presidential debate in January, it is not technically accurate to say Santorum was a federal lobbyist. But there’s smoke.

After leaving the Senate in 2007, Santorum became a consultant — not a registered lobbyist — for several firms. One of those companies was the lobbying firm American Continental Group. The personal financial disclosure statement Santorum filed as a presidential candidate shows that Santorum earned $65,000 in 2010 as a consultant for the American Continental Group, which reported earning about $6.6 million in lobbying fees that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Santorum last year also earned $142,500 as a consultant for CONSOL Energy. But he is not and never has been registered as a Washington lobbyist.

“Santorum has a point,” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation. “If he avoided all the definitions in the law, he can honestly say he’s not a lobbyist.”

According to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, a lobbyist is someone who receives compensation, meets with at least two senior officials per quarter, and “whose lobbying activities constitute 20 percent or more of his or her services’ time on behalf of that client during any three-month period.”

That doesn’t mean Santorum didn’t do any lobbying, said Allison. The exact nature of Santorum’s work for the companies that employed him is unclear, Allison said, though “he was obviously part of a lobbying company” and “should qualify as a lobbyist.”

— Robert Farley