expected pick of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to be
secretary of health and human services bumps up against the
president-elect’s pledge to rid the White House of special interests.
The former Democratic senator from South Dakota is a special policy adviser for the lobbying law firm Alston & Bird. And in his three years there, the firm has earned more than $16 million representing some of the health care industry’s most powerful interests before the department he’s in line to lead.
Daschle is not himself a lobbyist. But he has advised the firm’s clients on health care issues, according to the firm’s website.
His work as a paid adviser appears to run counter to Obama’s pledge to “free the executive branch from special interest influence.” No political appointee, Obama’s transition team has declared, “will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.”
As health and human services secretary, Daschle would oversee myriad regulations, ranging from the drugs that can come to market to Medicare and Medicare reimbursements.
“We can’t figure out any way that he would qualify to be secretary of health and human services under the policy that [Obama] has laid out,” said Taylor Lincoln, editor of Becoming44.org, the blog of government watchdog group Public Citizen.
Daschle’s office referred questions to Obama’s transition aides, who said his “work at Alston & Bird does not present a bar to his service in the transition.”
“We are still in the process of structuring the ethics rules for an Obama administration, but it's clear that those rules would require recusal from any regulation or issue at Alston that he actually worked on,” said transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. “We will meet every commitment made during the campaign.”
And that suggests that Daschle may well have to remove himself from some HHS issues because they were before his law firm.
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