Last year's paychecks heighten the perception our vice president is
tainted by personal interests
It's not the $2 million tax refund. It's the $211,465.
That's the amount of deferred compensation Vice President Dick Cheney
received from Halliburton last year. It's the final payment, his lawyer says,
of money due Cheney under an agreement that had the giant oil-services firm
paying him for his past services as its chief executive officer.
The payments continued after Cheney was elected and became chief honcho of
American energy policy and one of the chief architects of the war in Iraq.
The size of the refund owed to the vice president and his wife, Lynne, was
the news event of the tax-filing season. What headline writer could resist a
But we should not begrudge the Cheneys. The rich are indeed different from
you and me. They have vastly more wealth, pay more taxes and get more back when
their complex and ever-so-legal deals net a refund.
The far smaller sum from Halliburton is a more exquisite symbol of the vice
president's unrepentant arrogance.
The $211,465 Halliburton paid him in 2005 was more than Cheney's government
salary of $205,031. So who does he really work for?
That's why the Halliburton payout, which Cheney negotiated before he ran for
vice president in 2000, has always been controversial. And it's why Cheney's
dismissive attitude toward the appearance of a conflict of interest should have
been taken more seriously back at the beginning -- that is, before the word
"Halliburton" became associated with the phrase "waste, fraud
From the start, Cheney insisted that the Halliburton payments were an entitlement,
earnings from his hard work as chief executive. And they are. But he also has
misrepresented his continued financial ties to the company.
Cheney was being paid the deferred compensation every year, under an arrangement
that guaranteed payment, with interest, even if Halliburton went bankrupt. He
also has held stock options worth millions, and many of these were exercised
by an independent agent in 2005, with the proceeds rolled over into charitable
The special administrator Cheney established when he took office still controls
Halliburton options currently worth about $1 million, according to Cheney's
lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell.
The ethics laws that apply to executive branch personnel are intended to eliminate
even the appearance that an official's policy decisions might be influenced
by personal finances.
"A public servant owes undivided loyalty to the government," according
to a 2003 Congressional Research Service report on the Cheney situation.
Any advice or recommendation the official makes must "not be tainted,
even unintentionally, with influence from private or personal financial interests."
The president and vice president are specifically excluded from the criminal
sanctions that might apply to underlings. The risk of public opprobrium is supposed
to work instead.
Would oilman Cheney, working with oilman George W. Bush, have made the same
decisions favoring oil-industry giveaways and invading oil-rich Iraq had the
vice president not kept getting money from Halliburton? Probably.
But at least taxpayers would not now suffer the affront of watching the vice
president's benefactor gouging us -- while simultaneously paying him.
The initial no-bid contract of $2.41 billion granted to Halliburton subsidiary
Kellogg, Brown & Root to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq was
a debacle of cost overruns and billing irregularities.
Pentagon auditors questioned $263 million of the bills as inflated or unsupported
by documents. But the Army decided to pay almost all of the questionable costs,
according to The New York Times.
Through it all, Halliburton has been awarded profits as a percentage of its
costs -- including those costs questioned as excessive. It got separate government
bonuses as well.
Cheney insists he hasn't been involved in any matters involving his old company.
Nothing has emerged to directly contradict him. But surely the vice president
knows of Halliburton's shoddy performance and its preying on the American taxpayer.
Another public official -- perhaps someone as wealthy as Cheney -- might have
forfeited the Halliburton money. But not the vice president we have. 2006, Washington
Post Writers Group
Marie Cocco: firstname.lastname@example.org