- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2008

Financial ties of two of President-elect Barack Obama’s top appointees came under scrutiny Thursday as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s husband disclosed his extensive fundraising among foreign countries and a security contractor she must deal with as secretary of state, and Secretary of Agriculture-designate Tom Vilsack faced questions about farm subsidies and lobbying connections.

Former President Bill Clinton released 2,922 Web pages listing tens of thousands of donors to the Clinton Foundation, including millions of dollars from countries and international organizations Mrs. Clinton would have to deal with if confirmed to the State Department.

Among the largest donations are more than $10 million from Saudia Arabia and two international charities that gave more than $25 million each.

Questions arose about Mr. Vilsack, former Iowa governor, tapped this week to be agriculture secretary despite having collecting agriculture subsidies - something which Mr. Obama has vowed to limit. Mr. Vilsack also works for a law firm that has lobbied for clients with business before the Agriculture Department.

Taken together, the financial ties could become speed bumps for Mr. Obama’s nominees, which as a whole have been praised by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Mr. Obama asked the Clinton Foundation to release the names as part of his transparency pledge to clear the way for Mrs. Clinton to become secretary of state. Mr. Clinton agreed to inform an ethics panel of major future activities and to step away from direct involvement with some operations.

Among the donors to his foundation are movie stars, kings of business and finance, and major corporations.

One name on the list is Blackwater, the security contractor that protects state department employees in Iraq but which angered Iraqi officials over a gun battle last year that left 17 Iraqis dead. Blackwater Training Center gave between $10,000 and $25,000 to the foundation.

Some of the donors’ names have been known for years, but Mr. Clinton resisted releasing the complete list, even as his wife ran for office in New York and sought the Democratic nomination for president.

On the list are names from some of the scandals that arose during Mr. Clinton’s time in office, including Denise Rich, whose fugitive ex-husband Marc Rich received a controversial pardon from Mr. Clinton in 2001. She donated between $250,001 and $500,000.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the donor list “reinforces concerns” about Mr. Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric H. Holder Jr. , who was involved in the approval of Mr. Rich’s pardon as well as that of members of a Puerto Rican terrorist organization.

“The Clinton pardons undermined the system of justice that Holder was sworn to uphold,” Mr. Smith said, urging his Senate colleagues who must approve the nomination to scrutinize the pardon records.

The Obama transition team didn’t respond to messages left seeking comment.

For Mr. Vilsack, if confirmed, he would be in charge of the department that administers the subsidy program he has benefited from - and which his future boss, Mr. Obama, has called for curtailing.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama unveiled a farm plan that limited subsidies payments to a maximum of $250,000 a year, saving the federal government $100 million. He also has criticized payments to high-income individuals as “waste.”

The Vilsack payments, first reported by Politico.com, do not represent the kind of high-dollar payments the president-elect had in mind, the Obama transition team told reporters Thursday. They said Mr. Obama’s concerns focused on payments to millionaire farmers and large corporations.

Mr. Vilsack collected $42,759 in subsidies from the department between 2000 and 2006, or more than $6,100 a year, according to Agriculture Department records.

Mr. Vilsack couldn’t be reached for comment.

The subsidies to Mr. Vilsack come from the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays him and his wife not to farm parts of 592 acres they own in an effort to protect the environmentally sensitive land.

The farm’s value, according to Federal Election Commission records, has been estimated between $500,000 and $1 million.

Mr. Vilsack’s employment at Dorsey & Whitney, an international law firm with offices in the District also could be a problem. Mr. Vilsack is a partner and head of the trial department at the firm’s Des Moines office .

The firm is involved in federal lobbying activities and collected more than $3.5 million since 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks political money. It has represented, among others, the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-Op, Solargenix Energy, United Utilities, Chicken of the Sea International, the National Education Association, and numerous Indian tribes.

A spokesman told the Associated Press that Mr. Vilsack didn’t lobby on agriculture matters and doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

Mr. Obama had promised to “free the executive branch from special interest influence,” saying no political appointee would be allowed to work on “regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.”