Tom Daschle: Symbol of All That’s Wrong in D.C.

Tom Daschle is a man of little ability who, as far as history records, has never had a creative or original idea about any public policy issue. Nevertheless, through a combination of assiduous delivery of pork to his constituents, slavish devotion to the Democratic Party and ethical flexibility, he rose almost to the top of the heap in Washington, DC. In my view, Daschle has been a borderline crook through most if not all of his Senate career. But that didn’t stop the Democrats from electing him their leader in the Senate, nor did it deter a highly lucrative career after John Thune defeated him in 2004.

Barack Obama’s nomination of Daschle to head the Department of Health and Human Services has brought to light one aspect of the seamy underside of life in Washington. After his defeat, Daschle went to work for Alston & Bird, a law firm that also does lobbying. Daschle isn’t a lawyer, so he can only have been working on the lobbying side of the shop, yet he has never registered as a lobbyist. Still, his connections apparently were valuable enough that Alston & Bird paid him $2.1 million over the past two years.

That was just for part-time work, apparently. More remarkable is Daschle’s role with InterMedia, a mysterious, privately-held investment firm run by Leo Hindery, a long-time friend of Daschle, former candidate for Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the guy who ruined thousands of innocent investors and creditors in the Global Crossing collapse–think Bernie Madoff, only without the jail time.

InterMedia seems to be a rather Mickey Mouse operation, designed to invest modest amounts of money in media companies–one of the least promising business plans in recent years. Still, despite the company’s small size and doubtful business strategy, Hindery has been able to pay Daschle $1 million a year in “consulting fees.” The nature of this “consulting” has never been disclosed.

That wasn’t the problem, though. The problem was that HIndery also provided Daschle with a limousine and driver. Daschle was used to having a car and driver at his disposal when he was a Senator, so it apparently didn’t occur to him that someone must be paying for it and thereby conferring a taxable benefit on him. That’s one of his tax problems; another is that he forgot to mention $83,333 in taxable consulting income to the IRS. (Could you forget about $83,000 in income? If not, you’re much too poor to be a Democrat in Washington.) Eventually, Daschle apparently tumbled to these issues, but put off dealing with them until after he was nominated for the HHS post. Who knows? If Obama had decided not to nominate him, Daschle could have kept the money.

Daschle has created such a bad odor that even Democratic journalists are starting to notice. The New York Times says that the story of Daschle’s sudden wealth–well, not so sudden, as his wife had already made millions as a “lobbyist” who, by happy coincidence, was able to deposit checks directly into the Senate Majority Leader’s bank account–”offers a new window into how Washington works.” I’d say it’s more of an old window, actually; Democratic Party corruption has been with us for a long time.

The Associated Press, possibly even more loyally Democratic than the Times, can’t help pointing out that Obama’s appointment of Daschle contradicts one of the main themes of Obama’s campaign:

Barack Obama promised a “clean break from business as usual” in Washington. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

From the start, he made exceptions to his no-lobbyist rule. And now, embarrassing details about Cabinet-nominee Tom Daschle’s tax problems and big paychecks from special interest groups are raising new questions about the reach and sweep of the new president’s promised reforms.

Suffice it to say that appointing Tom Daschle to a Cabinet position doesn’t constitute “reform.” Obama promised “change,” but increasingly, that “change” looks like more shameless graft, corruption and cronyism than ever took place when the Republicans were in charge.

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