Let’s not begrudge Dick Cheney his $36 million income last year. Sure, it dwarfs the puny $744,682 reported by the President, but George W. Bush represents old money, and he knows better than to be too showy, particularly when you’re running for office as a Joe Six-Pack kind of guy. Better to roll over the income from inherited money into tax-protected accounts.
Cheney didn’t have time for such accounting niceties. Bush caught him right in the middle of a tax year with that Vice President nod, and remember, Cheney was only supposed to be advising Bush on the best choice for Veep. How was Cheney to know he’d be forced to recommend himself as the most qualified?
Still, just because he had become Vice President didn’t mean he had to take a vow of poverty. As Cheney told CBS News at the time, “I’d like not to give away all of my assets to serve the public.” And why should he, since there’s no law limiting the assets of federal office-holders or any requirement that they give up their acquired wealth? Cheney had only to look as far as Bush, who merely put his in a blind trust, no questions asked.
Huge financial assets are now the norm for leaders of our representative democracy, and it wasn’t unexpected that the mostly wealthy members of the Senate recently voted rich people like themselves an enormous tax cut, albeit not as large as the one Bush wanted for himself and his pals.
Cheney’s assets are only at risk of taxation if he wants to leave a huge amount to his heirs without paying additional taxes. Soon, even that will no longer be a problem because Bush and Cheney are sensitive to the unfairness of the estate tax to ordinary people like themselves, and they want to eliminate it.
What was at issue during the campaign was not Cheney’s assets or his income but his future stock options in Halliburton Co. These being tied to the rise and fall of Halliburton stock, presented a potential conflict of interest because, as Vice President, it was conceivable that he could influence stock prices. Under considerable pressure, Cheney decided to donate those stock options to charity, but he was left with a bit more than a hair-shirt.
Even after taxes, Cheney cleared more than $20 million in 2000. If the Bush tax cut had been in effect last year, Cheney would’ve saved another couple of million, to which he obviously feels entitled.
Don’t forget, Cheney was playing catch-up after years in the public sector, first as a congressman and then as Defense secretary. As it turned out, he only had about five years in the private sector to cash in his chips, and he didn’t really know much about the energy business. When he hired on to serve as the CEO of an oil services firm, he knew he would have to justify the big bucks he was getting paid.
Fortunately for him and Halliburton, it all worked out in the end.
For the Texas-based Halliburton, there initially was some concern. Only two years ago, with the company’s stock floundering, the board of directors chastised Cheney for the company’s poor performance. But then came the presidential election, and those same directors must have figured they had died and gone to heaven after Cheney got the Veep nod. That’s when the board of directors turned around and rewarded him with an incredibly lucrative severance package providing the bulk of his reported $36 million income in 2000.
Can you blame them? Most of Cheney’s working hours last year were devoted to seizing the White House for the most avidly pro-Big Oil presidency in US history, and servicing Big Oil is what Halliburton Co. is all about. That and construction projects around the world that an anti-environmental Administration now seems all too eager to facilitate.
Quite an impressive record for an executive who was just learning the business. They knew the guy would be good; after all, as a congressman he had one of most pro-industry voting records. And it was Defense Secretary Cheney who had made the decision to privatize logistical support facilities for the military, which gave Halliburton’s subsidiary, Brown & Root, huge construction contracts for the US military at bases throughout the world.
Of course, as the former Defense secretary who’d saved Kuwait, where Halliburton has huge contracts, Cheney was already known to be an effective player. But how could Halliburton have known Cheney would be this good? Not only did he help elect another Texas oil guy as President, but if you look at the short record of the Bush-Cheney Administration, when it comes to opening the environment for energy exploration, even that most pristine area in Alaska, these guys know no limits.
Indeed, they must be guffawing down in Texas to have two good old boys running the White House without a scintilla of shame. It’s been oil money well spent.