Clinton the `Outsider' Calls on Many Insiders
Critics question whether appointees can be free of past ties
WASHINGTON — THE arrival of Bill Clinton in Washington this week is a study in contrasts. His inaugural theme of "inclusiveness," including musical tributes such as Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," conflicts with what many observers say could shape up to be a Clinton administration mired in special interests.
Despite his campaign pledges to form an administration of fresh voices from outside the range of established powerbrokers, critics charge that Mr. Clinton's Cabinet selections are largely Washington insiders, lawyers, and lobbyists who have made their way in this town by wielding influence.
Before he was even sworn in, Clinton drew fire for falling short of standards he set during the campaign and the transition. Speaking with disdain about "influence peddlers," Clinton vowed that his leadership would be free from traditional ties to groups advancing their own agendas.
"Clinton ran as an agent of change who was going to end politics as usual," says Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research group studying public policy and ethics.
Clinton the candidate promised voters that he would impose stringent ethics guidelines to distinguish his tenure from past presidential terms rocked by abuses of office.
"That was the rhetoric," Mr. Lewis says, looking back. "The reality is that the largest single donor group to the Clinton inauguration this week is made up of lawyers and lobbyists. And during the campaign and transition Clinton had more unpaid policy advisers from inside the [Capitol] Beltway than from anywhere else. He's saying `change' to the country but to the power elites, it's `I want to be your pal.' "
Clinton's inaugural committee received over $17 million in corporate trade association and labor union loans. After the election, some 2,000 lobbyists honored the president-elect at a $15,000-a-plate dinner in Washington. That was the highlight of a long line of welcoming celebrations, flooded and financed by institutions eager to show support for the new president.
A striking number of Clinton's Cabinet selections, including Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, Commerce Secretary-designate Ronald Brown, State Department Secretary-designate Warren Christopher, United States Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, and Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird, hail from powerful corporate and lobbying positions.
Lewis cites Mr. Kantor's firm's work for large Japanese clients (who the US Trade Representative must confront in tough trade battles) his role as Clinton's major fund-raiser, with broad access to foreign money, as obvious conflicts for the trade representative. Mr. Berger's background "epitomizes influence-peddling and lobbying in Washington," with his work for the Japanese Embassy, Toyota, and a host of other clients. "He won't recuse himself from any economic and trade issues," Lewis says. "He'll be in the thick of them, and his position doesn't require congressional confirmation."
Experienced Washington consultants insist that it will be a struggle, at best, for those from law firms, lobby groups, and corporations to make decisions on behalf of the country that could compromise past clients and colleagues. "You can't ask Brown, Baird, or Berger to put their pasts and economic interests aside," says Christopher Whalen, who advises corporations on finance and trade issues. "Why? Because they have futures."
For those, such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Baird, whose congressional hearings are now under way, "the process is more like a coronation than a confirmation hearing," says Maurice Rosenblatt, who describes himself as Washington's longest-serving lobbyist. He says the Cabinet designees' vows to recuse themselves from decisions that overlap with their prior private-sector work are "a lot of baloney. What about the firms and companies they've left? ... Brown, Baird, or Christopher may say `I'm not going to do an ything,' but what stops their old colleagues from parading around town, trading their connections, and peddling the fact they are closely tied to high government office?"
Mr. Rosenblatt, who has watched and worked administrations back to President Truman, says "never has anybody made such high-flown promises as Bill Clinton. Congress has a great opportunity to hold Clinton to his pledges for a cleaner government. But as long as nominees with questionable ties win easy approval from those who are supposed to scrutinize them, then higher office will continue to be degraded."