Susan Bayh may be valued by WellPoint for her "experience, perspective and the many contributions she has made," as a spokesman for the nation's largest health insurance company tells us. But she wasn't valued enough by WellPoint or a string of other health-care companies to be invited onto their boards until her husband had a U.S. Senate election in hand.
Now that Sen. Evan Bayh approaches a heavily-solicited vote on historic health-care reform, the public is asked to believe that the more than $2 million his wife has earned from these special interests is irrelevant to his thinking.
To say we find that hard to believe is not to impugn the senator's integrity or commitment to the interests of his constituents. Granted, he can point to votes he has cast that have disappointed the health-care industry, which gave him more than $500,000 in campaign money in 2008.
But at the same time, lobbies do not hire the relatives of lawmakers in order to buy neutrality. For WellPoint and Sen. Bayh to make a point of not having had contact on legislation that could alter the company's future is at best disingenuous. Access is a given, and so is conflict of interest.
This particular form of conflict is not confined to the Bayhs. Nor is the posture of cluelessness about its effect on voter confidence. As The Star's Daniel Lee detailed Sunday in his story about the Bayh connection, some of the Senate's most prominent members and former members have played key roles in legislation affecting their families' business interests.
The way of the world? To some extent, yes. Elected officials cannot be expected to break all ties with their previous lives -- or to spurn the call of the lobbying industry when they return to private life.
Yet, they could burst the limits of Beltway imagination and reject plum positions for spouses that clearly come with strings attached. Or their spouses could do so on their own. Annette Shelby accomplished that very thing a few years ago, resigning from an aerospace company board because she felt it would look bad inasmuch as her husband, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., sat on a defense subcommittee.
In this troubled economy, there's even more reason to question political board appointments, especially multiple ones such as Susan Bayh's. Critics say such members lack the competence or at least the time to do the challenging work of overseeing their companies, raising the risk of misdirection and even ruin.
Bad business, in short, all the way around.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Star Editorial Blasts Bayh On Wife's Corporate Board Payola
It's taken years for them to come alive on this issue, but finally we have some actors in the mainstream media willing to hold Sen. Evan Bayh responsible for using his wife in a corporate board payola scheme to make millions for the Bayh household, a scheme no different than good ole fashioned bribes, except for the fact that our current legal system seems to say the former is permissible while the latter is still punishable as a crime. A Star editorial today hits the nail on the head: