Hypocrisy and Daschle’s Tax Problems

There was good news this week from Washington — at least for those of us who were worried that hypocrisy and double standards may have taken a fatal hit with the election of Pres. Barack Obama. Apparently we needn’t have worried because despite the promise of “change that we need” it is still politics as usual in Washington, D.C. and hypocrisy remains king of all things political.

Former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle was Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle was forced to withdraw his nomination in the third scandal in a row relating to nominees failing to have paid their taxes. In this instance the stench was too great for even the cozy Washington insiders’ club to ignore.

While most people focused on the failure to declare the value of limousine services paid for by his clients, the fact of the matter is that Daschle also failed to report consulting income of nearly $100,000. It is one thing to be confused about whether $250,000 worth of limousine services might constitute income and it is quite another to deliberately withhold disclosure of fees paid for consulting and speaking engagements.

And it wasn’t just an error Daschle discovered recently; he knew about it last summer and he still didn’t pay the taxes until he was nominated by Obama. One can speculate that had Daschle not been nominated, he would have never reported the additional income and would never have paid the taxes that were due and owing.

But none of this would ever bother Daschle who is know in some Washington circles as the king of hypocrisy. As Senate Minority Leader, Daschle was famous for rushing to the microphones to decry, in terms of “massive moral lapses”, everything the Bush administration did. One of the most famous of those instances was when Daschle was criticizing SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt. Daschle noted that Pitt once represented some of the nation’s largest accounting firms, that he consulted with representatives of the accounting industry before crafting and implementing securities rules and that he was just “too cozy” with the accounting industry. At the same time, Daschle dismissed inquiries as to whether there was a conflict of interest due to his wife lobbying Congress on behalf of the airlines industry — even in an instance in which the Boeing Company, a client of Daschle’s wife on whose behalf she lobbied the issue, received millions of dollars of loans and loan guarantees.

Daschle was thrown out of office by the voters of South Dakota, in part, because of his unmitigated hypocrisy. But, apparently, that defeat did not change his hypocrisy or his greed. After his defeat he became the penultimate Washington influence peddler. Daschle has been paid over $5 million during the past two years for consulting and speaking engagements — a large part of them on behalf of major members of the healthcare industry — the very group that he would have had to regulate as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Apparently, Daschle never registered as a Washington lobbyist but, trust me, in Washington you aren’t paid $5 million just because you are a nice guy — you are paid to exercise influence in one form or another.

But the hypocrisy is not limited to Daschle, or even his former colleagues in the United States Senate who rushed to his defense and described him in glowing terms as a man of integrity. It also extends to President Obama. Even as Daschle was exiting the process Obama was doing the Washington two-step. On Monday he made the obligatory statement that he stood firmly behind Daschle — this is usually Washingtonese for “pack your bags, your out of here.” And then, when Daschle actually withdrew, Obama noted:

“Tom made a mistake, which he openly acknowledged. He has not excused it, nor do I. But the mistake, and this decision, cannot diminish the many contributions Tom has made to this country from his years in the military to his decades of public service.”

We all would have felt better if Obama had actually said:

“Tom made a mistake, one that he chose to hide for over six months. He has not excused it, but he has sought to diminish it as a misunderstanding even though he deliberately failed to report nearly $100,000 in consulting and speaking fees. Tom’s decades of public service do not excuse his conduct and the smell of corruption is so pervasive that I withdrew his nomination and have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether criminal charges relating to his failure to pay taxes should be filed.”

That is the type of change we need, that is how you instill trust that you intend to proceed in an atmosphere where “politics as usual” is no longer the rule.