Monday, January 14, 2002

This month’s Washington Monthly includes an article called “Tom Daschle’s Hillary Problem.” It signals the succession within the Democratic Party not of a royal heir, of course, but of a royal pain: a “Hillary problem” a massive marital conflict of political interest for the man who would apparently be president.
“The landmines in Linda Daschle’s professional portfolio will make Hillary Clinton’s pork futures and law-firm billings look like mousetraps,” writes Stephanie Mencimer. Pork futures, cattle futures, whatever that’s quite a buildup. Mr. Daschle, of course, is the Senate Majority Leader. Mrs. Daschle is what’s called a “high-powered lobbyist.” She represents mostly aviation clients, including American Airlines and Northwest Airlines, from a big-gun law firm she joined in 1997, following four years as a Clinton appointee to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA posting, the magazine writes, “naturally stirred rumors … that she had been chosen because of who her husband was.” But except for an unfortunate bump over a fatal plane crash (more on that below), she has maintained a fairly smooth public profile until after September 11, when “her role in lobbying the airline bailout bill became public.”
Mrs. Daschle says she’s scrupulous about consulting ethics advisors and has never lobbied her Senator-husband or any other senator. “I don’t want people to knock on my door here wanting my help thinking they’re getting Tom Daschle as part of the deal,” she said. Sounds straightforward enough. If true, though, she might consider retiring the “giant” framed print of the U.S. Senate insignia that hangs behind her office desk to a more discreet nook. Meanwhile, as the magazine notes, “the airline bailout bill, shepherded through the Senate by Tom Daschle, sent nearly a billion dollars to American Airlines and Northwest Airlines” both of them big clients of Mrs. Daschle’s, while Northwest was Mr. Daschle’s second-largest donor the last time around. “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,” the magazine writes. “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 moneymoney which helps pay the senator’s mortgage.”
The article goes on to unearth other “landmines,” including the explosive case involving a North Dakota friend named Murl Bellew. Mr. Bellew once owned an air-charter service that repeatedly failed U.S. Forest Service safety inspections. “Bellew wanted to get rid of the Forest Service inspections,” the magazine writes, “and Sen. Daschle obliged by pushing legislation to eliminate the Forest Service’s inspection role altogether,” which had the effect of “leaving his wife’s agency as the sole overseer.” A lot of good that did. The Daschles were ultimately cleared of charges of inappropriate intervention after one of Mr. Bellew’s planes crashed in 1994, killing the pilot and three doctors en route to an Indian reservation clinic, but not before evidence emerged about Mrs. Daschle’s efforts to prevent the Forest Service from conducting inspections, and an FAA inspector’s charge that “agency officials destroyed documents to cover up [both] Daschles’ role in minimizing inspections of Bellew’s planes.” Chin up, though. After all, Bill and his Hillary problem won two presidential terms.

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