February 5, 2009
Inside Obama's sausage factoryBy William Tate
In the end, Tom Daschle had to go, not because of his tax problems, but because he had allowed a glimpse inside the Obama sausage factory. And what folks saw could have made even a certain peanut plant look pristine by comparison.
It can be argued that Daschle's tax avoidance was less egregious than Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's, even though the amount was substantially more: $140k compared to 'just' $34,000. Geithner's taxes were owed on regular compensation which his then-employer, the International Monetary Fund, had not withheld -- even though the IMF had offered repeated instructions on paying these taxes owed.
Daschle, on the other hand, owed back taxes because he is accustomed to the lifestyle accorded to a Washington power player. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "He (Daschle) told committee staff he had grown used to having a car and driver as majority leader and did not think to report the perk on his taxes."
Certainly, an understandable mixup. The sort that any of us could make. Right? (In case you have not properly paid taxes on the limo and driver your employer provides, here a tip: Don't use the same tax software Tim Geithner used.)
By allowing Geithner to become Treasury Secretary even after his tax problems became public, President Obama signaled that tax problems were no barrier to joining his cabinet. Other issues were at play in Daschle nomination to become Health & Human Services Secretary.
Coverage of Daschle's tax problems had shown a spotlight on the hypocrisy of Obama's pledge to bring change to Washington.
Obama vowed to ban lobbyists from his administration, promising the highest ethical standards in history; he had also pledged not to accept money from lobbyists during his presidential campaign. Once under scrutiny, Daschle's nomination gave the lie to both.
While Daschle's business card doesn't list his title as 'lobbyist', he -- as Time Magazine notes -- "in fact, made millions of dollars after he left government doing stuff that looks, smells and tastes a lot like lobbying."
And, as a lobbyist in all but name, Daschle contributed $2,300 to Obama's presidential campaign in March 2007 according to FEC records and another $2,000 last October.
Even if one quibbles about the technicalities of Daschle's job title, it is hard to deny that his wife filled that role. In 2007, Washingtonian.com named Linda Daschle the sixth most powerful lobbyist in Washington, noting,
Tom Daschle isn't the only high-profile Obama appointment that violates Obama's supposed ban on lobbyists. Much of the attention has focused on Obama's pick to be Number 2 at the Defense Department, William J. Lynn III, who until recently was a lobbyist for Raytheon, which receives billions of dollars each year from the Pentagon.
Not as much attention has been paid to the fact that Lynn also contributed to the Obama presidential campaign, one more example of Obama breaking his pledge not to accept lobbyists' money. Another two-fer.
This author is not aware of any current, authoritative figure which totals the amount of money contributed to Obama during the campaign by lobbyists who identified themselves as 'consultants' or some other euphemism -- Daschle is identified as a "senior advisor" on one FEC form. But as of December, 2007, before the primaries much less the general campaign had begun, Obama had already received $86,000 according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Columbia Journalism Review noted at the time that "the Center's lobbyist sector excludes in-house lobbyists who work solely for one company, union, trade association, or other group."
That number does not necessarily include those, who like Daschle, were not identified on FEC forms as lobbyists.
It is this sort of scrutiny, an examination of what Obama actually does rather than what he says, that the Obama team hoped to avoid by letting Daschle withdraw his nomination. Because, let's face it, if Obama's White House were a sausage factory--or even a peanut plant -- we might be hearing demands for product recalls by now.
William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author.