- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

When they leave the White House tomorrow, Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, will be subject to Senate ethics rules designed to protect the public from conflict of interest and influence-peddling by wealthy business interests.
As New York's junior Democratic senator, Mrs. Clinton and her soon-to-be ex-president spouse can no longer enjoy a regal existence paid for by others. Senate ethics rules preclude lavish dinners and expensive weekends with powerful tycoons wanting to curry favor with big political donors.
Even Mr. Clinton's future endeavors will be put under the spotlight. From now on, as the spouse of a senator, all his income over $1,000 from any source must be itemized in Mrs. Clinton's yearly Senate financial-disclosure reports.
This is the first time a former president has left office to return to the private sector while his wife remained an elected federal officeholder, so Mr. and Mrs. Clinton will continue to make history, said Marc E. Miller, a Washington ethics lawyer who has written a book about the careers of political spouses.
"It seems to me that [their] situation is so unique that we're probably going to see some of these issues looked at in a whole new way," said Mr. Miller.
Susan B. Bayh, wife of Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, had some advice for Mr. Clinton in a recently published open letter.
"Most of the spouse ethics rules were written for wives with big causes and little jobs," said Mrs. Bayh, an environmental lawyer and Clinton-appointed member of the International Joint Commission between the United States and Canada.
"You will get used to the $49.99 dinners and sports tickets and the $99.99 gifts," she said, referring to Senate rules barring the Clintons from accepting individual gifts worth $50 or more, or a total value of $100 from a single source.
"Accumulate evidence to prove that anyone whom you wish to exceed these limits with is a 'true friend,' " Mrs. Bayh cautioned, referring to another rule that says senators can only accept gifts exceeding the $99.99 limit from a close friend, such as a fiancee.
Mrs. Bayh also warned Mr. Clinton that "… before you take an interesting new challenge, you'd better check whether there's a 'conflict of interest' with [Mrs. Clinton's] job."
Mrs. Clinton was assigned to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees funding of the federal interstate road system, along with getting two other seats on the Education, Health and Pensions Committee, and the Senate Budget Committee.
While the Senate rules do not directly restrict Mr. Clinton's future employment or membership on corporate boards of directors, ethics experts say he must be careful about his affiliations or income from companies or people affected by Mrs. Clinton's legislative and committee activities.
Mr. Miller said many problems with the Senate's ethics rules occur when spouses work for public relations organizations, lobbying groups and law firms representing government or corporate clients with interests before Congress.
However, the Senate rules are vague regarding what constitutes a conflict of interest.
The Senate Ethics Manual tells lawmakers: "Being married to a senator or Senate staff member does not, of course, preclude one from earning a salary. Certain aspects of a spouse's employment, however, may have ramifications for the Member."
A footnote then directs readers to Mr. Miller's 1985 book, "Politicians and their Spouses' Careers," with no explanation.
"Neither federal law nor Senate rules specifically preclude a Member's spouse from engaging in any activity on the ground that it could create a conflict of interest," the Senate manual states. "However, Senate rules and statutory provisions impute to the Member certain benefits that are received by the spouse. Thus the question may arise as to whether the Member is improperly benefiting as a result of the spouse's employment."
French Wallop, estranged wife of former Sen. Malcolm Wallop, Wyoming Republican, ran a business travel consulting firm during her husband's tenure as senator, but was told by the ethics committee that her clients could not include companies in the defense and intelligence communities because her husband served on the Senate Armed Services and Select Intelligence committees.
"I had to get rid of four or five [clients]," Mrs. Wallop said in a telephone interview from London. "It was not something I felt comfortable with."
It is expected that Mr. Clinton will reap a large income from public speaking engagements and his own book deal, which will come on top of Mrs. Clinton's much-publicized $8 million book contract with Simon and Schuster. But Mr. Clinton's actions may bring controversy, according to ethics specialists.
Secretary of State-nominee Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, amassed a $27 million fortune largely from speaking fees in the seven years since he has left the military.
As he undergoes Senate confirmation hearings, watchdog groups have already focused on Mr. Powell's biggest fees from global financial investment firms, such as Credit Suisse Group, Goldman Sachs and American Express Co., which have a large stake in U.S. economic and foreign policy decisions.
Speaking or consulting fees to spouses of Senate and House members present possible ethical problems, Mr. Miller said, because they "… can lead to instances where outside parties believe that by treating a spouse especially favorably they are making points with the elected official."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide