Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the newest Democratic candidate for President, still has not officially quit as a lobbyist for an Arkansas-based data storage company, according to congressional records obtained by HUMAN EVENTS.
According to disclosure forms from the Senate Office of Public Records, Clark has been lobbying the U.S. Senate, the Department of Defense, the CIA, the Justice Department, and other government agencies for Acxiom, Inc. since January 2002.
Clark’s lobbying of the Defense Department, the documents show, included the period during which he worked as a defense commentator for CNN, creating a potential conflict of interest.
CNN spokesman Matt Furman told HUMAN EVENTS that the news network was simply unaware of Clark’s lobbying activities when it hired him.
“We did not know,” he said. Asked whether this would have disqualified Clark from the commentator job, Furman said that such a determination is normally made on a case-by-case basis by the network’s editorial staff. He said he knew of no specific plans by the network to disclose Clark’s lobbying activities retrospectively in the context of his work as a commentator.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who also appears as a commentator on CNN, told HUMAN EVENTS in a brief telephone interview that such lobbying by commentators is not unprecedented. He added, though, that news networks should disclose major business interests of commentators who appear on television.
“It’s basic journalism that you need to inform your viewers about the perspective of a guest,” said Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-wing media watchdog organization. “In journalism, the appearance of a conflict of interest is a problem, whether or not it is a material conflict.”
Clark’s campaign spokesman, Jeff Dailey, took HUMAN EVENTS’ questions, but did not respond by press time.
Acxiom, Clark’s only lobbying client, provides database products and services for companies in several industries-mostly helping businesses track past and potential customers with detailed databases. This is usually done in order to increase repeat business, but the company recently teamed with a Pentagon contractor on a project to use demographic information to track airline passengers and flag those who are potential terrorist threats.
Clark originally registered as a freelance lobbyist for Acxiom on Jan. 2, 2002, and re-registered as a member of an Arkansas lobbying firm called SCL, LLC-on May 7 of that year. His disclosure filing from August 2003-this time under the aegis of “Wesley K. Clark and Associates”-states that he received $50,000 from Acxiom for his work between January 1 and June 30 of this year. Clark will be required to file another disclosure form in 2004 to show his lobbying income for the second half of 2003.
To date, Clark has generated between $300,000 and $400,000 in revenue through his lobbying activities for Acxiom, his only client. (Lobbying disclosure reports allow for wide latitude in estimating lobbying income.)
Clark still has not filed the so-called “termination report” that would officially end his lobbying registration.
While some have commented on the unusual fact that Clark, a presidential candidate, is still a registered lobbyist, Clark’s possible conflict of interest as a defense lobbyist and a defense commentator on CNN has gone largely unnoticed.
Clark appeared on CNN to comment on military issues several times during the Iraq war, which began in mid-March and continued through April of this year.
Asked whether CNN would be concerned that Acxiom had benefited from the higher profile that the network unwittingly gave their powerful Washington lobbyist, Fuhrman said, “Obviously, we understand that people choose to go on TV for a lot of different reasons, one of which is to elevate their profile. Given that we didn’t know [about Clark’s lobbying], it would be difficult to talk about it in any greater detail.”
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, HUMAN EVENTS Editor Terence P. Jeffrey appears exclusively on MSNBC, a rival of CNN.