The Daschle Dilemma

By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 02/ 2/2009

Thomas A. Daschle's nomination to be secretary of health and human services got tripped up on Friday by the disclosure of a series of tax filing errors made over the past three years, including his failure to pay taxes on a luxury car and driver provided for him by Democratic businessman Leo J. Hindery Jr., his friend and employer.

But Daschle's $146,000 tax problem, serious as it is, also called attention to his status as something of a poster-child for the kind of revolving-door lobbying culture that Obama has so vociferously condemned.

As Douglass K. Daniel writes for the Associated Press, the former Senate majority leader "collected nearly a quarter of a million dollars in fees in the last two years speaking to leaders of the industry President Barack Obama wants him to reform as the administration's health secretary.

"That was just a portion of the more than $5.2 million the former South Dakota senator earned as he advised insurers and hospitals and worked in other industries -- real estate, energy and telecommunications among them, according to a financial statement filed with the Office of Government Ethics."

David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times that the Daschle story "offers a new window into how Washington works. It shows how in just four years an influential former senator was able to make $5 million and live a lavish lifestyle by dint of his name, connections and knowledge of the town's inner workings...

"[I]nterviews and a review of public documents show that in his work for a Washington law firm, Mr. Daschle did take on an array of clients seeking influence with the government, including concerns involved in Indian gambling, ethanol, health care, telecommunications and federal contracting...

"Affiliated with the firm Alston & Bird, Mr. Daschle has operated in the gap between the popular understanding and legal definition of a lobbyist. There is no evidence that he directly sought to influence his former colleagues or other government officials in ways that would have required him to register as a lobbyist or could have run afoul of the restrictions on former lobbyists entering the Obama administration. But the rules still left plenty of room for him to advise businesses seeking to influence the government or to profit otherwise from the fame and insights he acquired in public life."

Meanwhile, Ceci Connolly and Paul Kane write for The Washington Post that Daschle "released a letter early today apologizing to the top lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee for mistakes on his personal income tax returns that resulted in $146,000 in back payments.

"'I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns,' he wrote to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). 'I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them.'"

© 2009 The Washington Post Company