- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana who has been selected by the White House to be the next national chairman of the Republican Party, took a major step last week by announcing that he would end his lobbying activities once his party duties begin. Regrettably, however, Mr. Racicot has not yet completed the journey. Despite the fact that Mr. Racicot's ethical credentials are impeccable, in the post-Clintonian world of American politics it is essential that the chairman of the Republican Party walk the extra mile in order to eliminate even the appearance of a conflict of interest. That means Mr. Racicot should completely sever his ties with Bracewell & Patterson, a Houston-based lawyer-lobbying firm that hired him last year to lobby from its Washington office.

Having pledged to jettison his lobbying activities, Mr. Racicot nonetheless plans to draw a large salary from the firm while serving as a "volunteer" party chairman. In doing so, Mr. Racicot would still expose himself, his party and the White House to a relentless stream of criticism from the media and the Democratic Party. Even before Mr. Clinton arrived in Washington in 1993, Republicans rightly criticized Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Ron Brown, who actively lobbied on behalf of Washington clients during his 1989-1992 term as party chairman. Ten years and two Clinton terms later, it doesn't matter that Mr. Racicot himself will not be lobbying.

As party chairman with a huge say in how party campaign funds will be distributed, Mr. Racicot should not be drawing his salary from a firm whose fellow partners will be lobbying for votes from Republican representatives and senators whose re-election in November he will be spearheading. And Cabinet members and White House officials should not be taking calls from lobbyists who are sharing the fruits of their endeavors with the Republican Party chairman. Besides, the party chairmanship should be a full-time job. This is especially so in a mid-term election year. Both the House and the Senate are literally up for grabs in less than 10 months. As chairman, Mr. Racicot should have no time to offer his firm's clients "strategic advice" or whatever else he will be doing to earn his salary from the firm.

Democrats will delight in exploiting even the appearance of a conflict of interest. DNC Chairman Terence McAuliffe, whose pre-chairman fund-raising activities were littered with far more than the mere "appearance" of impropriety, has been having the time of his life questioning the ethical bona fides of his soon-to-be Republican counterpart. One wonders what the White House had in mind when it extended such an opportunity to the likes of Mr. McAuliffe.

Mr. Racicot, a longtime honorable and able public servant and politician, has one more step to take before the Republican Party's winter meeting convenes in Austin, Texas, on Thursday. If his personal finances will not permit him to take that step, the White House should find someone who can.

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