Here's a poser: Suppose a public official is accused of recommending his girlfriend for a promotion, though he was the one who first flagged the potential conflict of interest and officials had refused to let him recuse himself from decisions about the woman. Should he lose his job?
That's precisely what happened in 2007 to Paul Wolfowitz, who was run out of the World Bank on the pretext that he had given his girlfriend a raise. In fact, Mr. Wolfowitz had made bank officials aware that his girlfriend already worked at the bank before he accepted the job as president, and bank officials had raised no objection to the job change that removed his girlfriend from any direct reporting to Mr. Wolfowitz. The ethical uproar was a politically convenient excuse, fanned by the media, to oust Mr. Wolfowitz when his real offense was that he was too hard on corruption.
So it's going to be fascinating to see how the press corps and political class react to the news that Montana Senator Max Baucus recommended a staff member who was his girlfriend for the plum job of U.S. Attorney. Mr. Baucus disclosed the attempted sweetheart deal early Saturday after media inquiries made clear the story was breaking. The 67-year-old Senator disclosed that he had recommended Melodee Hanes and two others earlier this year for the U.S. Attorney post in Montana. While Presidents appoint U.S. attorneys, by tradition home-state Senators have significant influence in the selection, especially Senators from the same party as the President.
A spokesman said the Senator and Ms. Barnes began their relationship in mid-2008 after Mr. Baucus separated from his wife. Ms. Barnes left his payroll earlier this year, but only later did the couple come to their senses and decide to withdraw her application for the U.S. Attorney post. She nonetheless landed on her feet in another job at the Justice Department, and "was awarded the position based solely on her merit," the Baucus spokesman said. Of course she was.
As Senate Finance Chairman, Mr. Baucus is a crucial player in health-care reform, and our guess is that neither Democrats nor their media allies will want to explore this nepotistic near-miss lest it interfere with that greater political goal. But if they don't, we will learn a good deal about workplace ethics and political double standards.
Monday, December 07, 2009
As news broke this weekend that Senator Baucus has recommended his girlfriend for a job as a federal U.S. Attorney, the outcry was pretty quiet. But that contrasts to a similar, albeit less egregious, breach of ethics. And from the lack of noise on the left, we're seeing how situational their ethics are. The Wall Street Journal reminds us of how different things were when the person in question was a Republican.