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The Daschle Dilemma

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.'"

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 2, 2009; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics  
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Comments

Mr. Daschle is only deeply embarrassed because he got caught. He is a tax cheat. We already have one tax cheat recently appointed to head the IRS of all agencies. Enough of dishonest persons being appointed to government positions. Obama must back off his appointment.

Posted by: wagnernut | February 2, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I see no dilemma here. Daschle broke the law, knowingly, to a degree that makes Tim Geithner look like a piker. Furthermore, he is the poster boy -- THE poster boy -- for behavior President Obama has sought eliminate with his executive order regulating "revolving door" lobbying practices.

Daschle must withdraw, or he will subvert the president's standards for ethical behavior, and do damage to him politically. He was hardly the best candidate for the post in any event.

How about a medical doctor for the post? Someone with keen political skills and a distaste for Washington's calcified and ignominious establishment? Someone like Dr. Dean, perhaps?

Posted by: FormerSubscriber | February 2, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

How is THIS a dilemma? Did Obama not just give a speech on lobbyists and the revolving door between government and the private sector?

Daschle is in the business of selling influence, and he didn't even pay the tax he owed. If Obama is serious about change, withdrawing this candidate would be a could place to start. This is a no-brainer.

Posted by: postfan1 | February 2, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I too owe some back taxes - I guess that this now make me eligible to serve in the Obama Administration.

Posted by: CubsFan | February 2, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I am a huge supporter of President Obama but the Daschle situation makes me uneasy. I understand that the platitudes of stump speeches are often turned into pragmatic administrational choices, but the former South Dakota Senator seems to be the epitome of the revolving door public servant/sycophant that engenders public distrust of government. Setting high standards is the easy part, living up to them is the challenge.

Posted by: gorilla_monsoon72 | February 2, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

It will be very difficult to sweep this one under the rug, The amount of Taxes in qustion if I read the reports correctly is about $125,000 .
One just des not forget to pay Taxes of such a large sum. Who is his Accountant? Pewee Herman or the folks who did Enron's books.
Obama should pull this nomination. The Gov of New Mexico stepped aside for much les than this. Coming on the heels of the Treasury Nominee this may be too much for the Obama Administration. Daschle should step aside.

Posted by: Carprin | February 2, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Like Lisa Simpson said: Cesspool on the Potomac.

Posted by: tom2 | February 2, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Even if we give him a break on his tax evasion, I would drop him for concealing his known tax problem from the vetting process. That selfish decision proves that he cannot be trusted because he will choose his personal gain over the goals/reputation of the President. Furthermore, he is not the only qualified person for this position.

Posted by: observer23 | February 2, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Dump Daschle, Choose Dr. Dean (http://40yrs.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-littlest-gator-said.html)

Posted by: syfgaryizzqm | February 2, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but a second comment. If Daschle believes what he wrote--"I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns. I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them"--then he would withdraw his name for consideration. Of course, he doesn't really mean that he's a) sorry; or b) apologetic.

Posted by: observer23 | February 2, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Saying Daschle is not a lobbyist is like saying that Obama did not take corporate donations, and like Bill Clinton saying 'I did not have sex with that woman'. I.e. the distinctions are purely semantic.

If you look at things carefully what you see is that: 1, Daschle did the same things lobbyists do, 2, Obama took money from Corporate CEO's in record numbers, just not their corporations directly, and 3, Bill Clinton did have sex with that woman.

So I guess I am still waiting for a 'new' kind of politics, cause what Obama is giving us isn't anything but window dressing.

Posted by: DCDave11 | February 2, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm convinced. Daschle needs to go.

Posted by: wp11234 | February 2, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Dan - you need to be a little stronger on this. You know -- better than almost anybody else in DC -- what a miserable disaster we just went through with eight years of George Bush. You wrote weekly (sometimes daily) on the sleaze, winks, lies, corruption, deceitfulness, and fraud of the last crowd. This is just as bad and, even worse, was the exact behavior Obama ran against. If the Editorial Board is going to pussy out on this, you should put your foot down. It is revolting.

Posted by: Losercuda | February 2, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I think it is just another dose of reality for the Obamamaniacs who can only be clenching their teeth trying to swallow the latest blatant hypocrisy by Geithner and Daschle. Both are hand-picked nominees for Cabinet level positions -- they are also tax cheats and the former is a poster boy for politician-turned-lobbyists that our Prez routinely criticizes.

Posted by: winoohno | February 2, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Obama has given us a very different kind of politics in this brief beginning. That doesn't change the fact that the ranks of our "leaders" are filled with crooks and cheats.

I realize that passing health care reform is going to require a skilled political insider with the respect of both parties. Surely Daschle isn't the only person to fit the bill! Or is the sell-out of our system so complete that you'd have to be bent to gain bipartisan support.

Obama should ditch Daschle on principle.

Posted by: ath28 | February 2, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Dan, we do NOT like this new format and you are very likely to lose readership if it continues this way.

Posted by: nana1ellen | February 2, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This is just plain appalling.

We voted for Obama to CHANGE things.

What are we getting? Appointees like Holder, Geithner and now Daschle – cronies with elastic ethics. These people are not irreplaceable. There's a lot of good, honest talent out there.

Why oh why do we have to go right back to our country being run by a bunch of rich scofflaws?

Posted by: KevPod | February 2, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Dan,

Love the new format (took some getting used to, though) and hope it makes your job a bit easier. If President Obama turns out to be merely a different flavor of the last rascal to hold the office, please feel free to revert to the old layout. That said, Daschle's dilemma is Obama's opportunity to walk his own talk. Anything less than dropping his nomination will likely result in...well let's just say there are many loyal Americans more than willing to indulge in a little creative tax accounting if it's considered a model of patriotic sacrifice.

Posted by: snakedoctor | February 2, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I voted for Obama and wish him all the luck in the world, but these tax scofflaws disgust and revolt me, and Obama shouldn't allow them in his administration. Are Geithner and Daschle really the only qualified people for these posts? Their apologies were a load of manure. Completely meaningless. I could understand if a store cashier or a welder had trouble filing their taxes, but not these two. It is truly inexcusable, and then they go before Congress and lie that it was all an innocent mistake.

Posted by: Digger2 | February 2, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

It's good to be King is it not, Barak? You get to make the same rules you get to break. And only the 'little people' get mad. There will be no health care, withdrawl from Iraq, or successful stimulus. From where I sit, the Republicans are still running the government. I fear Barak is letting the GOP set the agenda because that is what he always planned so as to keep the status quo. Oh, and Hillary just hired contractors to protect State diplomats in Iraq. Some change.

Posted by: davidbn27 | February 2, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Ditch Daschle and put Dean in charge. Dean was/is an MD, and Daschle is Military Intelligence-an oxymoron of famous proportion.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | February 2, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Obama is now expressing complete support for Daschle after learning that 1) he cheated on taxes to an astounding degree and 2) lied on his questionnaire. I voted for Obama and wish him well, but it is getting hard to escape the conclusion that he is a head case. Can't he simply admit: 1) Daschle lied and they can't catch all lies in the questionnaires and 2) liars are automatically disqualified from his cabinet/advisors. He should express regreat and tell Daschle to hit the road. Otherwise, what is the point of the vetting process? Everyone will lie knowing that loyalty trumps the truth with O. (Sound familiar?)

Posted by: DocGreen | February 2, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

What's most disheartening is to see Mr. Gibbs and other Dems tap-dancing and waffling about the Daschle problem rather than flatly withdrawing the nomination.

Hey, you guys! You said you were going to end this sort of thing. Don't you realize how this looks out here in the "Heartland?"

Obama's popularity is based on him and the Democrats being different from what we're used to. Excusing corruption and incompetence will wipe that out right away.

Posted by: KevPod | February 2, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I wish Obama would withdraw the Daschle nomination. We don't need someone beholding to the healthcare industry running DHHS. I agree with others who suggested Howard Dean be nominated. Of course I know this won't happen because the Washington insiders protect their own. I'm sure Daschle will get all kinds of Republican votes because they know that he isn't about changing anything.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | February 2, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Obama promised and promised there would be no lobbyists in the White House when he got elected. Now we know "no lobbyists" was not a rule, but a guideline to be ignored at will. The voters should call their senators and ask them to vote against confirmation to send a clear message that a promise should be kept, even if Obama fails to keep his promise.

Posted by: R2D22 | February 2, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Geithner and Daschle tax scofflaws??? Hah - more like tax evaders, which I think come under federal criminal statutes. Also, who paid the back taxes for them --- maybe the lobbying groups, or Obama"s still monstrous campaign fund???

Our tax system is only as sound as the people believe it to be fair to everyone --- having people in high positions who seemingly just brushed off their tax OBLIGATIONS certainly will lead to more avoidance of taxes by the MIDDLE CLASS (not a suggestion to evade, just a comment on the probable result.)

Obama might keep his ear closer to the ground on these ethic and tax avoidance situations. By the way, I heard on the news today that Obama commented on Jessica Simpson's weight problem, but nobody is supposed to see the emperor's big floppy ears, let alone comment on them (I guess they are invisible.)

Thanks for the space. I feel better already. Night-night.

Posted by: ohenry1 | February 3, 2009 1:13 AM | Report abuse

True to its promise, the Obama Administration hit the ground running and shot itself in the foot... twice.

Is that the scent of flop sweat in the air already?

Posted by: ruinedbruin | February 3, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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