Another Cabinet Nominee, Another Series Of Tax Problems

Those who objected to the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in last year’s Presidential election sarcastically derided the nature and competence of the McCain campaign’s vetting operation. Surely–the thinking went–the campaign could not have been operating on all cylinders if it allowed a candidate like Palin to slip through its vetting procedures and end up as the Number Two on the Republican ticket.

Fast forward to the present day, which has seen a tax cheat slip through the vetting procedures of the Obama transition process and become Secretary of the Treasury. And since the Obama Administration has decided that the drama surrounding Tim Geithner needed an encore, we now have this:

ABC News has learned that the nomination of former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to be President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services has hit a traffic snarl on its way through the Senate Finance Committee.

The controversy deals with a car and driver lent to Daschle by a wealthy Democratic friend, a chauffeur service the former senator used for years without declaring it on his taxes.

It remains an open question as to whether this is a “speed bump,” as a Democratic Senate ally of Daschle put it, or something more damaging.

After being defeated in his 2004 re-election campaign to the Senate, Daschle in 2005 became a consultant and chairman of the Executive Advisory Board at InterMedia Advisors.

Based in New York City, InterMedia Advisors is a private equity firm founded in part by longtime Daschle friend and Democratic fundraiserLeo Hindery, the former president of the YES network (the Yankees’ and Devils’ broadcast network).

That same year he began his professional relationship with InterMedia 2005, Daschle began using the services of Hindery’s car and driver.

The Cadillac and driver were never part of Daschle’s official compensation package at InterMedia but Mr. Daschle — who as Senate majority leader enjoyed the use of a car and driver at taxpayer expense — didn’t declare their services on his income taxes, as tax laws require.

During the vetting process, Daschle discovered that he owed back taxes and paid them. But how many tax cheats are we going to tolerate in public office? The law is not all that complicated when it comes to determining taxable income; the Internal Revenue Code states that gross income is “all income from whatever source derived.” How could Daschle not have understood that a car and driver constitute a form of remuneration and are therefore taxable income?

And how much longer are we going to let errors such as this one to go unpunished? Tom Daschle and Tim Geithner appear to have privileges that other people do not have; they are allowed to avoid paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes until the moment when their tax delinquency becomes politically inconvenient to the Obama Administration. Once their delinquency is discovered, they then ask us to forgive and forget and let them take their high-powered public jobs, jobs that will allow them to determine policies that affect our futures. If your average Joe or Jane tried this kind of thing, however, he or she would find the U.S. Government far less forgiving. Or, to put it another way, Tim Geithner’s Treasury Department would not be nearly as sympathetic to your average Joe or Jane as it was to Tim Geithner, or as it might be to Tom Daschle.

The only way to stop such double standards from being perpetuated is to clamp down on them. That should have meant denying Senate confirmation to Tim Geithner. It is too late to be able to do anything about that, apparently, but it is not too late to make an example of Tom Daschle and put the kibosh on his nomination as Health and Human Services Secretary. And while we are at it, we can urge the supposedly ethical Obama Administration to take away Daschle’s other appointment as director of the White House Office on Health Reform. Lawbreaking should receive no reward in any section of the federal government, after all.

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