WASHINGTON – Tom Daschle collected nearly a quarter of a
million dollars in fees in the last two years speaking to leaders of
the industry President Barack Obama wants him to reform as the
administration's health secretary.
That was just a portion of the more than $5.2 million the
former South Dakota senator earned as he advised insurers and
hospitals and worked in other industries — real estate, energy and
telecommunications among them, according to a financial statement
filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
Daschle's finances are drawing additional scrutiny
because he failed to pay his taxes properly. Although he has made
amends with the government, senators said Sunday they are awaiting
guidance from the committee reviewing Daschle's nomination before
deciding whether the tax problem could stall or even derail his
Obama has said that no one in his administration who has
lobbied on a set of issues within the past two years can deal with
the same subject matter. The president has already approved a few
exceptions, one of them a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist picked to be
chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Daschle,
however, is not a registered lobbyist.
Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for Daschle, said the
hundreds of thousands of dollars he earned in speaking fees from
health care interests do not pose conflict for the health care
reform Obama wants him to lead.
"He welcomed every opportunity to make his case to the
American public at large and the health industry in particular that
America can't afford to ignore the health care crisis any longer,"
Among the health care interest groups paying Daschle for
speeches were America's Health Insurance Plans, $40,000 for two
speeches, CSL Behring, $30,000, the National Association of Boards
of Pharmacy, $16,000, and the Principal Life Insurance Co., $15,000.
Daschle said in a letter to the Department of Health and
Human Services ethics office that if he's confirmed by the Senate,
he will resign as a senior policy adviser at the Washington law firm
of Alston and Bird LLP. He reported earnings of more than $2 million
from that firm during the past two years.
Daschle also earned more than $2 million in consulting
fees from InterMedia Advisors LLC of New York, an investment firm
specializing in buyouts and industry consolidation. He said he also
intends to resign from that firm upon his confirmation.
Among other earnings, Daschle reported $250,000 in
director's fees from the energy company BP PLC. He was a paid
director for four other companies and organizations, among them the
Freedom Forum, a nonprofit group that advocates First Amendment
rights and funds the Newseum, a Washington museum focused on the
Daschle's financial disclosure report was released after
he acknowledged that he had recently filed amended tax returns to
report $128,203 in back taxes and $11,964 in interest. The amended
returns reflect additional income for consulting work, the use of a
car service and reduced deductions for charitable contributions.
Former Senate colleagues on Sunday described Daschle as a
popular public servant knowledgeable in health issues, yet they
wondered how he could find himself in a tax mess — and why the
matter escaped Obama's team of background checkers.
Democrats expressed strong support for Daschle and
credited him with coming forward and acknowledging a mistake.
Republicans took some shots at the new administration now that a
second Cabinet pick had run into tax problems and an earlier nominee
withdrew amid a grand jury investigation.
The Senate Finance Committee planned to meet in executive
session Monday to discuss the nomination.
"I'm going to wait until they give me their opinion,"
said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The
latest disclosure about a nominee's tax problems "does raise some
questions about the vetting process," he said.
His deputy, Sen. Jon Kyl, who is on the committee, said
members will question Daschle and try to understand his explanation.
"I think it's too early to tell," said Kyl, R-Ariz. "Well, sure, you
have to be troubled by it."
But a Democratic committee member, Sen. John Kerry of
Massachusetts, brushed aside concerns that Daschle's nomination was
in jeopardy. "Not for me and I hope not for fair-minded and
thoughtful people," he said.
"It's obviously a mistake. But I think it's an innocent
mistake. I don't think it affects one iota his ability to do the
job," Kerry said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the problem could
disqualify Daschle but that he wanted to learn more about the
matter. "It's disheartening, obviously. People are struggling to pay
taxes on a very small amount of income and he's got this huge
amount," DeMint said.
Before Daschle's difficulties over back taxes, Geithner's
confirmation as treasury secretary was delayed after it was revealed
that he had failed to pay more than $34,000 in taxes.
Obama's first choice for commerce secretary, New Mexico
Gov. Bill Richardson, took his name out of consideration when his
confirmation appeared headed toward complications because of a grand
jury investigation over how state contracts were issued to political
Kyl appeared on "Fox News Sunday," DeMint was on ABC's
"This Week," Kerry spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press," and McConnell
was on CBS' "Face the