By NBC's Jo Ling Kent
Cambridge MA-- Newt Gingrich skipped campaigning in the nearby first-in-the-nation state of New Hampshire yesterday to speak with students at Harvard, where he attempted to minimize the role he played in receiving millions of dollars from mortgage behemoth Freddie Mac as a consultant for a firm bearing his own name.
Calling the consulting fees "Gingrich Group's earnings, not my earnings," the former Speaker of the House tried to distance himself from the firm at which he earned millions of dollars in the years since he has left office.
"I didn't take it," he told reporters of the fees Gingrich Group earned from Freddie Mac. The funds “weren’t paid to me as a candidate,’’ he explained.
"Freddie Mac paid Gingrich Group, which has a number of employees and a number of offices a consulting fee, just like you would pay any other consulting firm," Gingrich said.
Attempting to minimize his connection to his namesake firm, Gingrich repeatedly said in a press conference he is no longer affiliated with the company. He also welcomed "thorough vetting" of his candidacy, adding that he hoped that Gingrich Group would release earnings numbers from Freddie Mac to the public.
Perhaps unintentionally though, Gingrich revealed that he has conflicting feelings about the money-making industry of consulting firms in politics. In a question and answer session at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Gingrich criticized the use of expensive consultants in campaign advising for candidates seeking higher office. Gingrich said the merry-go-round of advisors, consultants and ad-makers produce ill-informed candidates who rely on the staffers and consultants who helped get them into office to survive, upon being elected to office.
"What's happened is we've grown a consulting industry so that instead of having the old time big city machine bosses, we now have these consultants," Gingrich said, despite having collected millions of dollars in similar fees himself.
Gingrich and his wife Callista appeared at the Kennedy School for a screening of a film they produced, “A City Upon a Hill." The documentary-style film promotes the idea of American exceptionalism.
Gingrich appeared both pleased and pleasantly surprised by new poll numbers showing him nearly tied for first place in New Hampshire with long-time front runner Mitt Romney.
"It is almost disorienting," Gingrich said. "I jumped by a factor of three in the past month...we thought we would be in contention by January. This is a lot."
When asked if he could feasibly beat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, where Romney had until Friday held a double digit lead, Gingrich shrugged his shoulders, "Who knows?"
"I would say it was more plausible tonight that it was yesterday," he said. Gingrich recently opened new headquarters, hired a state director and several staffers in the Granite State.
Gingrich returns for more campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday. He will meet with the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial staff, whose endorsement is among the most sought after ahead of the first-in-the-nation Republican primary to be held on January 10.