The Real Problem With Tom Daschle

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 2:24 PM EST

President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, former Sen. Tom Daschle, ran into a bit of trouble over the weekend over $128,203 in tax problems. But as Glenn Greenwald notes, unpaid taxes aren't the only thing that should make you think twice about Tom Daschle. In 2002, our own Stephanie Mencimer, then an editor at the Washington Monthly, wrote about the relationship between Daschle and his lobbyist wife, Linda:

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So here's a case where a senator's wife gets a high-ranking government job, which in turn boosts her earning power as a lobbyist. She then represents clients who have business with and give money to her husband. Those clients pay her big bucks to help fight safety regulations and to win government money—money which helps pay the senator's mortgage. Yet so far, the press and congressional ethics hawks have largely given the Daschles a pass. So why isn't this a bigger story?

Mostly because no one in Congress has the slightest interest in raising it. Democrats certainly don't want to attack one of their own, and as they point out in defending the Daschles, Republicans are married to lobbyists, too. In addition, both Republicans and Democrats are beneficiaries of Linda Daschle's clients. "This town is so bizarre that Linda Daschle may even deliver campaign contributions to Trent Lott," says the Heritage Foundation's Ron Utt. Indeed, she freely admits to giving campaign contributions to Republicans.

So who's left to scrutinize the relationship? The answer is the press. But Daschle has them covered too. Unlike Hillary a decade ago, Linda Daschle is a Beltway insider who understands the rules of the game. The main rule is that the effects of your actions, no matter how dubious—say, weakening airline safety—are never grounds for a scandal so long as you first, disclose your actions, and then, don't violate the ethics rules in the process. If Tom or Linda Daschle had secretly taken a free pair of Superbowl tickets from Northwest Airlines and then pushed the airline bailout plan, that would be a big story. But the fact that Tom Daschle takes thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Northwest and his wife's firm collects $200,000 a year to lobby for them is no problem at all.

You can read the rest of Stephanie's story over at the Monthly's site, or check out Glenn's post, where he's exhaustively cataloged how Daschle represents "Old Washington."

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