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Culture of corruption: Daschle edition

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 24, 2009 08:31 AM

(Limited edition Culture of Corruption trading card sets are now available! Get your Dirty Dozen pack here thanks to Tennyson Hayes)

I reported last month that failed HHS nominee Tom Daschle “may be out of the spotlight since his Health and Human Services cabinet nomination fiasco. But he is in constant contact with Team Obama.”

Chapter 1 of Culture of Corruption provides a full sketch of Daschle’s tax-cheating, influence-peddling ways — and exposes Barack Obama’s refusal to throw his wheeler-dealer Beltway buddy off the bus. Limousine liberal Daschle’s tax evasions were the least of his problems. Tom Daschle is the personification of all that Obama professed to detest during his campaign of Hope and Change— – a consummate Beltway insider who parlayed his public service (where he earned a $158,000 yearly salary) into a $5.2 million personal fortune as one of Washington’s biggest influence peddlers along with his lobbyist wife.

Let’s not forget: Daschle was aware as early as June 2008 that he might have to pay back taxes for the use of a car and driver provided by a private equity firm, but he failed to inform Obama transition team until weeks after Obama designated him the HHS nominee in mid-December 2008. The donor and personal friend who provided the chauffeured services, Leo Hindery Jr., had also made Daschle chairman of the executive advisory board of InterMedia Advisors, a high-flying investment firm. Daschle raked in a million-dollar salary from the arrangement in addition to his private chariot. Asked why he hadn’t disclosed the cozy arrangement, Daschle “told committee staff he had grown used to having a car and driver as majority leader and did not think to report the perk on his taxes, according to staff members.” It was a perfect expression of the culture of Beltway entitlement.

Daschle was on the cusp of attaining enormous power to reshape the American economy and implement his sweeping universal health care proposals. He wasn’t going to let a pesky tax omission get in the way. On January 2, 2009, he was forced to amend his 2005 and 2007 tax returns to reflect $255,256 for the use of the car service, $83,000 in unreported consulting income, and $14,963 in charitable contributions. In addition, the would-be Health and Human Services Secretary failed to pay $6,000 in Medicare taxes for the driver. On February 1, 2009, Daschle groveled before his former Senate colleagues to explain away the back payments he owed as well as dubious charitable deductions worth an estimated $146,000, including interest and penalties. It was downplayed as a “tax glitch.”

Daschle withdrew on February 2, 2009. Obama stuck with him until the very end. He expressed “sadness and regret” that his HHS nominee got tripped up by his “mistake.” Obama said he “screwed up” and promised not to repeat the mistake again.

Another empty promise.

Over the weekend, the New York Times detailed just how cozy Daschle has been with the White House and the health care industry over the past six months. Daschle has been raking in speech money — billed as the “architect” of Obamacare — and raking in consultant fees for health care clients who stand to benefit from “compromise” proposals Daschle has been lobbying for at the White House and on the Hill:

Six months have passed since the morning when Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, under fire for not paying certain taxes, called President Obama in his study off the Oval Office to withdraw his nomination as health secretary and reform czar.

But these days it often seems as if Mr. Daschle never left the picture. With unrivaled ties on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, he talks constantly with top White House advisers, many of whom previously worked for him.

He still speaks frequently to the president, who met with him as recently as Friday morning in the Oval Office. And he remains a highly paid policy adviser to hospital, drug, pharmaceutical and other health care industry clients of Alston & Bird, the law and lobbying firm.

Now the White House and Senate Democratic leaders appear to be moving toward a blueprint for overhauling the health system, centered on nonprofit insurance cooperatives, that Mr. Daschle began promoting two months ago as a politically feasible alternative to a more muscular government-run insurance plan.

It is an idea that happens to dovetail with the interests of many Alston & Bird clients, like the insurance giant UnitedHealth and the Tennessee Hospital Association…

When members and allies of Team Obama engage in back-scratching and Beltway business as usual, it’s not lobbying. It’s “helping” and providing a “resource:”

Mr. Daschle is not registered as a lobbyist and recently told U.S. News and World Report that he preferred to describe himself as a “resource” to those in government and industry.

“I’d like to be a resource to my former colleagues, to the extent that I can, to the administration, to the stakeholders and to people interested in just kind of knowing how this is all going to play out,” he said. “I am most comfortable with the word resource.”

White House officials say they appreciate his help. “He is one of a number of people that provides outside advice to the White House, and the president greatly appreciates that advice and Tom’s friendship,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the White House who previously worked for Mr. Daschle. Mr. Pfeiffer added that the former senator was “a recognized expert on health reform who knows more about the legislative process than just about anyone.”

Daschle is just another privileged Corporate Shill for Hope and Change. Bobby Gibbs won’t be questioning his motives anytime soon.

***

One final, grating detail buried in the NYTimes piece: Republican Senate pal Robert Dole, one of Daschle’s colleagues at Alston & Bird, collaborated with him on his latest tweaking of the Obamacare plan — from which Dole and Daschle’s clients stand to benefit.

Like I always say: When government grows, corruption flows. And both Democrat and Republican Beltway creatures are guilty of providing the fertilizer.

***

Health insurers respond to Obamacare negotiations: “It’s a bonanza!”

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