Political Ethicspolitics

More Ethical Considerations in the State Department

By August 20, 2014 No Comments

My policy, especially for this blog, is to stay far away from politics. The reason is simple enough; those who follow me are of all political persuasions and even no political persuasion. It is easy enough to offend people, why should I make comments on their politics?

department-of-state-logoNevertheless, I will start this blog with a small, but developing story published in the Washington Examiner (July 30, 2014) entitled: “State Department approved 215 Bill Clinton speeches that earned him $48 million, raising ethics questions.”

Examiner writers Luke Rosiak and Micah Morrison, pointed out that while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State, Mr. Clinton was delivering speeches – and the State Department didn’t seem to have a problem with a single one of them. Who would object at “State?” Who would have risked saying to a boss, “I sorry, but your husband who was, by the way a former President of the United States, can’t say that.” Oh yeah, sure.

Mr. Clinton spoke in front of hundreds of groups, from podiums around the world, while his spouse was Secretary of State. While the former president was obviously not speaking on behalf of the State Department, the separation between perception and reality was quite blurred.

Even if there was absolutely no impropriety, there is the perception that Mr. Clinton’s power and prestige may have been used to further catapult his wife onto the national stage and to shed a nice light on everything she was doing at the State Department. I am searching my brain to find an equivalent in industry – I can’t. The podium from which Mr. Clinton speaks is incredibly high. Nevertheless, consider this:

Let’s pretend that my wife is the head of the USDA, and her agency has launched a nation-wide initiative to get people to eat less fat. Indeed, they are spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to promote the low fat initiative. Let’s pretend that I am the CEO of a food company that is has just launched a breakthrough product line of snack foods that are not only low in fats, but help reduce fat.

My PR agency has arranged for me to go on an international speaking tour extolling the virtues of our fat free product line. From time to time in my speeches I talk about how very proud I am of my wife and how we share a common vision for a fat-free future.

Would you feel comfortable with that arrangement? I’m not so sure that I would. Even if my company had developed the fat free, fat reducing snacks completely independent of the USDA campaign, I am sure the association would raise more than a few eyebrows.

An Ethical Firewall

It is my belief that if there is no mechanism in place for situations where there is the potential for suspicion of conflict between a high ranking government official and private enterprise, there must be an ethical firewall.

The State Department should not have been approving Clinton’s speeches anymore than in our mythological case, an assistant at USDA should have been approving the materials for the Secretary’s husband.

In such cases, I advocate strict neutrality.

However in the case of the Clintons the stakes are even higher. The CEO of a food company is not the President of the United States. If a neutral panel ruled that there was the potential for an ethical conflict of interest, the conflict should have been shut down.

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