Why Dems Should Be Glad Daschle Won’t Run

He’s got a big problem. Her name is Linda.

Chatterbox doesn’t know why Tom Daschle suddenly decided not to run for president. But the decision is unquestionably a good one for the Democrats. Had Daschle run, sooner or later his wife Linda, who is a corporate lobbyist in Washington, would have become an issue. It’s unsettling enough that the Democrats’ Senate leader is married to an influence peddler. It may even unsettle Linda Daschle, who was quoted two years ago saying she took a “not at all favorable” view of Daschle’s running for president. “You can be a very nice person and you can find that some will still distort your record, try to convince in every possible way that they can that you are not who you are,” she told Gannett News Service. A plausible translation of that would be: “If Tom runs for president, he’ll get pilloried for being married to me.”

Linda Daschle, who served briefly as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration during the Clinton administration, lobbies mainly for the airline industry. Her most conspicuous achievement was to shoehorn into the Transportation Department budget a requirement that the FAA purchase at least half its baggage scanners from L-3 International, which is one of her clients. The L-3 scanner turned out to be a lemon. A month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Transportation Department’s inspector general explained to Congress why nine L-3s that were supposed to be installed at specific airline terminals around the country weren’t there:

The nine L-3 machines remain in the warehouse because there have been operational problems with these machines. For example, the L-3 machine at the Dallas Ft. Worth airport (DFW) had operational problems from the day it was installed in the spring 2000. Between July 2000 and July 2001, the L-3 machine at DFW experienced a mean time between failures requiring a service call of 84 hours, and a mean time to repair of almost 6 hours. This means that if the machine broke at the start of the day, it would be out of service for most of that day’s screening operation. FAA is in the process of conducting its own demonstration of two L-3 machines at its TechnicalCenter in New Jersey. FAA operated the machines for a total of 900 hours during the first run of its demonstration to derive valid, independent operational data on reliability and availability. This first run resulted in high failure rates, mostly requiring software resets.

Linda counters most criticism by saying that she’s been involved in aviation issues since before she married Tom and by pointing out that she never lobbies the Senate. But as Stephanie Mencimer pointed out last year in the Washington Monthly,

[W]hen it comes to lobbying Congress, does it really matter whether a congressional spouse lobbies her husband? The House Democrats on whom Daschle focuses her attention aren’t likely to ignore calls from the majority leader’s wife. And given the soft currency of Washington’s access business, it’s awfully hard to separate influence in such concrete ways, especially when many of Daschle’s clients are lobbying both her husband and the Senate as well.

As an example, Mencimer cited Linda’s work for Schering-Plough, a rare client outside her usual aviation portfolio, which was trying to extend its patent on the allergy drug Claritin:

Daschle was one of many lobbyists the company hired to press its case, but the contract raised questions about Schering-Plough’s motives for hiring her, given that Daschle has no expertise in pharmaceutical issues or at the FDA. … Daschle may not have been lobbying the Senate, but Schering-Plough was, contributing $100,000 in soft money to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the past three years.

Tom opposed the patent extension, which never happened. But how could Schering-Plough not be beguiled at the thought that their lobbyist shared a bed with the Senate leader? It’s an issue that people seem willing mostly to overlook now, but they wouldn’t overlook it if Tom Daschle were running for president.

[Correction and an update, Jan. 9: The company Linda Daschle represented is called L-3 Communications, not L-3 International.

Meanwhile, Judy Sarasohn  reports in the Jan. 9 Washington Post that Linda Daschle had told the law firm where she works as a lobbyist that she would leave if her husband decided to run for president so that she could work full-time on his campaign. (“I had told them I did not want to miss the opportunity to support Tom,” she told the Post.) Even as an ex-lobbyist, though, Linda would still have been a liability.]