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.