It was somehow fitting, in a Washington sort of way, that last night the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs named its new initiative to work with government leaders at various levels of authority after Thomas Daschle. (Sunlight was an honoree at the same event for our civic innovations.) The former Senate Majority Leader and President Barack Obama’s original choice to mismanage the rollout of Healthcare.gov has made a fortune by claiming he does no work with government officials, just the special interests that want to influence them.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve drawn a very hard line with regard to advocacy on the Hill,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don’t have any expectation that I’ll do that in the future.”
What Daschle actually does is a matter of guesswork, but apparently he does it very well. Roll Call noted yesterday that he’s a top rainmaker at DLA Piper, where his portfolio includes financial services, telecommunications, trade and tax. And of course, healthcare.
And what are Daschle’s credentials? He never went to law school and is not an attorney. He is not and never has registered to lobby. His firm bio says he “provides strategic public policy advice” to clients. BusinessWeek reported, a bit more precisely, that he gives his clients “tips on the personalities and policy proclivities of members of Congress he has known for decades.”
Knowledge of which brand of wafer thin mint Sen. Harry Reid prefers with his policy papers is worth a fortune in the nation’s capital. When Obama nominated him to serve as the Health and Human Services Secretary in 2008, Daschle revealed that his then-employer, the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird, paid him a total of more than $2.1 million in salary and bonuses in 2007 and 2008. That’s more than five times as much as he made during his last two years in the Senate ($374,690).
Alston & Bird had competition for fluffing up the former senator’s wallet. During the same period, InterMedia Partners LP paid Daschle another $2 million for consulting services. The private equity firm invests in media properties ranging from Soul Train Holdings to the Sportsman Channel. Interestingly, while Daschle served in the Senate, he personally invested in petroleum firms, commercial banks and mutual funds…but no television, radio, film, newspaper or other media companies.
No matter. Daschle was good friends with Leo Hindery Jr., the prominent Democratic donor who runs Intermedia. And it was Hindery who provided Daschle with the perk—about $182,000 worth of rides in a chauffeur-driven car—that cost him the job of implementing the Affordable Care Act (who’s not sorry now?). The Internal Revenue Service calls such perks income, with taxes due. Daschle did not. In fact, in his book Getting It Done, he characterizes accepting the perk as being, almost, an act of charity to the driver (a widower struggling to raise his daughter). He added that he never dreamed that the service—again, $182,000 worth—would be the kind of thing the IRS would take an interest in. That is, at least until he faced confirmation by a Senate Committee, when he filed amended returns declaring the personal favor as income. Rather than be grilled over the rest of financial affairs since leaving the Senate, Daschle withdrew from further scrutiny.
“After my withdrawal,” he wrote in Getting It Done, which was actually the second book he authored on healthcare, “I was fortunate enough to stay involved in the reform efforts as a senior policy advisor at the law firm of Alston & Bird, and later at DLA Piper.”
In the book, Daschle spelled out all the problems the reform efforts set out to address—rising costs, poor outcomes, lack of access to care, and gave examples and heartless companies stripping Americans of their coverage. “UnitedHealth canceled the insurance coverage for a Michigan family, including two children, because the father didn’t mention that he had an abnormal blood count,” Daschle wrote.
From his K Street perch, he was able to offer guidance to those seeking to influence the healthcare act. Like Judah Sommer, a Washington lobbyist who, according to BusinessWeek, hired Daschle. Her client wanted to kill what was known as the “public option,” a low cost, government-run health insurance system to compete with private insurers. Daschle said he favored the measure, but nonetheless shared his advice. Daschle told the publication he doesn’t always agree with his clients; apparently, he does agree with their money.
The client that Daschle helped? UnitedHealth Group.