Clinton Advisers Have Strong Ties to Business

Article excerpt

N.Y. Times News Service

WASHINGTON _ The top officials of Bill Clinton's presidential transition team are lawyers and lobbyists whose collective client lists and board memberships include virtually every American industry and many foreign companies and governments.

The clients of these officials' firms sell everything from Kermit the Frog to the uranium used in nuclear power plants. The clients drill oil, build cars and run banks. They sell cigarettes, fighter jets, spy satellites and wine.

Many of these clients have important matters pending before federal agencies and Congress, which is precisely why they turned to Washington lawyers.

For a president-elect who came to Washington pledging to "limit the influence of lobbyists," these business connections have created a tension. On the one hand, Clinton has unveiled new ethics rules that he says will in the most forceful way ever prevent transition staff members from influencing areas of government that could affect their private financial interests or those of their clients.

On the other hand, the staff has interpreted those rules in a way that has resulted in the disqualification of only one transition aide from a staffing discussion.

Transition officials insist there are no other financial conflicts involved as a handful of prominent business lawyers helps staff the government that will then regulate their clients, a contention that has brought criticism from some legal scholars and public interest groups.

The transition team has also refused to make public the financial-disclosure forms it announced with some fanfare two weeks ago. To do so, aides said, would unfairly violate the privacy of transition officials, who are mostly unpaid and serving in a temporary capacity. In withholding the information, team members said they are only following past practice.

An examination of the top officials' business connections, drawn from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other public documents, offers new details on their extensive business connections and those of their law firms.

Vernon E. Jordan, the transition chairman, earns at least $442,000 a year in fees on the boards of 11 corporate giants, including Union Carbide, American Express, Xerox and RJR Nabisco. Jordan also holds approximately $911,000 worth of stock in these companies, not counting stock options, and will qualify, upon retirement, for pensions from them worth more than $200,000.

His law firm, Akin Gump Hauer Feld, represents at least seven of the corporations, and as a senior partner he shares the law firm's profits.

The transition director, Warren M. Christopher, is the senior partner in one of the nation's largest law firms, O'Melveny Myers, and he has led it during a decade in which it added an array of leading Asian industries to its client base. …