Leon Panetta Speaking Fees Scandal?

The reality of Washington politics continues to clash with President Obama’s stated goal of a clean administration without ties to lobbyists.   Would-be CIA Director Leon Panetta is the latest example, WSJ’s Glenn Simspon reports.

The White House’s nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, has earned more than $700,000 in speaking and consulting fees since the beginning of 2008, with some of the payments coming from troubled financial firms and from a firm that invests in contractors for federal national security agencies, according to financial disclosures released Wednesday.

[…]

Mr. Panetta’s disclosure form illustrates how retired politicians commonly make money giving speeches and consulting for prominent companies with significant interests before the government. That was one element in the controversy over the cabinet nomination of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who withdrew Tuesday.

The former White House chief of staff’s disclosure form also shows the delicate balance President Barack Obama is trying to strike — trying to curb the influence of lobbyists, while relying on Washington veterans who often help clients navigate the halls of power. Mr. Panetta’s forms show that he performed government affairs consulting last year and also sat on the board of a public affairs firm that lobbies Congress. Like Mr. Daschle, who also worked for a firm with lobbying clients, Mr. Panetta doesn’t violate Mr. Obama’s ban on hiring registered lobbyists.

It should be emphasized that what Panetta did was absolutely legal.  Nor is there any evidence I’m aware of that Panetta, much less those paying him money, expected that he’d be CIA Director in an Obama administration — so there’s no “influence peddling” here.

That said, I’ve heard Leon Panetta speak and, frankly, it wasn’t worth $28,000 — his apparent going rate.  Then again, when Merrill Lynch or Wachovia bring in a politico at such lavish rates, they’re not paying to be scintillated.

The fact of the matter is that former politicians, cabinet members, and flag officers quite frequently leave their posts and cash in.  Mostly, they get offered incredibly lucrative spots on corporate boards in the hopes that their prestige and networks will be useful to said corporation.  It’s one reason among many why public servants making less than $200,000 a year suddenly became multi-millionairres.

By all accounts, Panetta is a decent and honorable guy.  He’s simply taken advantage of the system as it existed, staying well within the lines.  But, if Obama really wants to “clean up Washington” and really thinks lobbying is a danger to the body politic, then he needs to quit bringing in the likes of Tim Geithner, Tom Daschle, and Leon Panetta.

Or shut up about it.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Merely one more in the increasingly long line.
    At some point….

    Oh, never mind.

    Hopey Changitude.

  2. Franklin says:

    Well, James says there’s no influence peddling. If that’s true, that makes this a non-story.

    The full article, however, notes a couple cases where the companies in question were doing some lobbying work. Are you sure Panetta’s possible influence on the government wasn’t used?

    For me, that’s the only question. Speaking for a fee is not, by itself, anything resembling unethical.

  3. Triumph says:

    Or shut up about it.

    This is typical of liberal hypocracy. Under the sensible Bush administration policies, conflict of interest was a prerequisite for governmental appointment–not a disqualification.

    This position shows that Hussein is woefully out of touch with the American people.

    I bet Panetta eats arugula at every meal with all that cash he’s raking in!

  4. anjin-san says:

    We have a ruling class in this country who’s lives are essentially one long free lunch. This is news?

    The change is that Obama actually seems to think that this is a bad thing which should be changed. The fact that he is unable to do so with a wave of his hand may give the slow kids something to whine about, but is does not have much significance beyond that.

  5. James Joyner says:

    The change is that Obama actually seems to think that this is a bad thing which should be changed. The fact that he is unable to do so with a wave of his hand may give the slow kids something to whine about, but is does not have much significance beyond that.

    Umm, he has absolute control of 5000-plus political appointees. Surely, there’s a Democrat who is simultaneously capable of running CIA and hasn’t taken tons of money from interest groups. If Obama really cared, he’d find one. But, in reality, he just wants to talk about the issue while doing business as usual.

  6. HiItsNino says:

    I think a lot of talking heads are distorting Obamas position here. He has required that anyone joining his administration not become a lobbyist for 2 years after leaving his administration. It would be nearly impossible to get someone with experience who doesn’t have lobbyist ties in DC.

  7. HiItsNino says:

    …one more note – a good friend of mine is a Lobbyist for Car gill and she is at the top of her game when it comes to food economics. We joke with her about the movie “Election” being a documentary of her life. She has a very strong ethical conviction when it come to farmers rights in the US and other countries. Should she ever be appointed to a presidential cabinet position I would have full confidence in her abilities. The fact that she is a lobbyist is not a factor. What matters is weather or not the appointment would be used as a stepping stone to more $$$, not weather or not someone has a job.

  8. Davebo says:

    James,

    Can you explain how giving speeches and consulting equates to lobbying?

    All this hand wringing seems a bit over the top given the lack of substance in the story itself.

  9. Rick DeMent says:

    That said, I’ve heard Leon Panetta speak and, frankly, it wasn’t worth $28,000 — his apparent going rate.

    And yet CEO’s are worth precisely what people are willing to pay them.

  10. Davebo says:

    0 for 2 now.

    Perhaps Tee Ball?

  11. James Joyner says:

    And yet CEO’s are worth precisely what people are willing to pay them.

    Oh, I’m sure Panetta provided $28,000 in perceived value. Just not for the speeches.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Can you explain how giving speeches and consulting equates to lobbying?

    The reason people pay exorbitant sums to the likes of Panetta to “speak” and “consult” is to gain access to his network.

  13. Davebo says:

    The reason people pay exorbitant sums to the likes of Panetta to “speak” and “consult” is to gain access to his network.

    I thought that was why people paid 4 bucks for coffee at Starbucks….

    But hey, what do “I” “know”?