Apparently, Dick Cheney did such a swell job as the head of the giant Halliburton Co. that the board of directors decided to reward him with extra shares of company stock when he resigned. He may have been a good CEO, but as an applicant for the post of America's next vice president, Cheney is a dud.
Team Gore and pundits rightly have castigated Cheney's Platinum Parachute. The energy/construction company generously padded his sweet goodbye package so that it totals more than $30 million. As the New York Times reported, by treating Cheney's resignation as early retirement, the board of directors fattened Cheney's portfolio with stock options worth $6 million ... although he couldn't collect on those options until they vest in 2001 and 2002. The company also allowed Cheney to keep shares worth $7.5 million that it could have withheld.
For you multimillionaire readers who don't see a problem, allow me to explain: If Cheney doesn't get rid of the unvested options, he would stand to profit handsomely if oil prices skyrocket or the administration decides to prolong the U.S. engagement in Kosovo. (Uncle Sam has paid a Halliburton subsidiary some $2 billion since 1995 for support services for U.S. missions abroad.)
On the Sunday political talk shows, Cheney explained that he had "smart people" working on how to handle the unvested stock options ... maybe he could sell the options at their discounted present value ... so that there would be no conflict of interest.
Wrong. If Cheney had "smart people" working on the issue, they'd have talked him into saying he won't pocket the extra stock options if he is elected.
Hasn't happened. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Cheney argued, "Well, I'd like not to have to give away all my assets in order to serve the public. I don't think that's required; it shouldn't be."
Hello. No one is asking Cheney to give up all his assets. The New York Times suggested that he not pocket the stocks that haven't vested ... which would still leave Cheney with some $24 million. If Cheney considers keeping only $24 million to be beggaring himself, then he is woefully out of touch with the American voter.
This whole stupid episode leaves some Republicans wondering just how hungry Cheney is to win.
Not to mention the Bush League. Surely somebody at GWB HQ understands that besides the conflict-of-interest problem, there's a class issue here. As in: Not many lunch-bucket voters are going to warm to a suit who thinks that stock options and the executive washroom key are his due.
Where's Dubya? The man is no slouch when it comes to telling delegates to play nice and keeping staff mum around reporters. It's time for him to have a little man to man with Cheney. Tell his No. 2 to wise up and promise to put the options into an escrow account that would award bonuses to Halliburton's lower level employees when they leave.
Bush boosters could cry that Al Gore, for all his deriding of the Bush/Cheney ties to "big oil," is no different. In Gore's early years in politics, after all, he was weaned on Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s largesse. A family trust is rich in Occidental holdings.
Cheney seems oblivious to the political peril he is creating for himself by clinging to his extra Halliburton millions. He comes across like the guy in adventure movies who weighs himself down with so many gold bars that he can't escape the cave he is looting before it blows up. He could escape with a few bars, but he wants them all. You last see him trying to reach safety, but he is encumbered with so many gold bars that he can't maneuver. The walls come crashing down and he is buried in the cave as it implodes around him.