A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a growing trend among Washington’s leading influence peddlers as they make the adjustment to the more ethics-conscious Obama era: they’re avoiding the taint of lobbying (not to mention the disclosure requirements) by calling themselves strategists instead of lobbyists. One such operator is Tom Daschle, who works at lobbying firm Alston & Bird as a “special policy adviser.” At the time, I noted that an additional perk of side-stepping the lobbyist moniker was that media outlets like Newsweek still seek out Daschle’s insight on health care without mentioning that he has clients with a stake in the legislative battle.
But Daschle’s previous media mentions are nothing compared to his appearance on Meet the Press this weekend, as Michael Scherer of Time points out. On one side was fierce, uncompromising reform foe Sen. Tom Coburn, who has said that Obama’s plan would “endanger the U.S. economy, but millions of patients as well.” And on the other side …a hired gun for insurance behemoth UnitedHealth, which, as BusinessWeek has discovered, is leading the charge to defeat the public option, the centerpiece of liberal goals for reform:
Daschle personally advocates a government-run competitor to private insurers. But he sells his expertise to UnitedHealth, which opposes any such public insurance plan. Among the services Daschle offers are tips on the personalities and policy proclivities of members of Congress he has known for decades… He says he leaves direct contacts with members of Congress to others at his firm.
Meet the Press didn’t mention Daschle’s relationship with UnitedHealth at all. This was really the best advocate for reform that the show could come up with?