What We’ve Learned

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So, Tom Daschle ended his bid to be Secretary of Health and Humans Services after a weekend of revelations showing that he had failed to pay taxes on a variety of things, most notably a driver provided to him by a venture capitalist, and because it was finally revealed that Daschle had been working in that netherworld of advising lobbyists for health companies on how and whom to lobby.

Now, perhaps Daschle would have survived the confirmation battle in the Senate and become HHS Secretary, but it is clear that his aformentioned hidden ties to the industry whose issues he was prepared to take the reins of at HHS pushed him into withdrawing his name for fears it would harm the President, himself, and the cause of health care reform. Ultimately, delayed transparency led Daschle to shame and to submit his notice of withdrawal.

What we’ve learned is that these things always come out. Everyone in Washington knew that Daschle was no different than a registered lobbyist for the health industry, just that he didn’t do anything that required his registration. You can see this Time article by Michael Scherer for more on this. Obviously, the problem is not solely that Daschle did these things, the temptation in Washington to cash in on personal connections is hard to avoid, but that there is not yet a system of transparency that reaches far enough to change the behavior of those trying to influence the affairs of state.

This system ought to include the expansion of the definition of a registered lobbyist to include those providing advice and consulting within lobbying firms. An interesting piece in Scherer’s Time piece notes that then-Sen. Obama pushed for the revolving door provisions in the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act to be extended to include consulting and advising lobbying firms only to be rebuked by his fellow senators, who may have been thinking about their post-Senate employment possibilities. Also, the personal financial disclosures of these executive branch appointees should be readily available online for the public to examined. These are only a couple of changes that must happen.

Only by truly peeling back the layers of Washington that obscure the entitled and the enriched who exert influence behind the scenes can we begin to ensure that the government will be run in a way that protects the public trust over personal interests.

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