Most of the commentary on David Axelrod's contract with his former political campaign and consulting firm has missed the crucial point. People's opinions of the appropriateness of the deal under which Axelrod will be paid two million dollars over the next many years don't matter even in the world of public opinion because few people will know Mr. Axelrod's name or care that he made an arrangement to continue to receive funds from his former firm while living on his otherwise much-reduced salary as a senior advisor to President Obama.
The deal itself may well be completely legal if a little starting to outsiders. What matters is whether Mr. Axelrod knowingly or unknowingly broke the law in striking the deal with his former firm and then participating in negotiations with people or entities that directly or indirectly sent cash to his former firm to produce and air ads pushing the president's health care agenda.
"So what?" should be the response to that declaration. The federal laws governing what an advisor to the president can and cannot do are numerous, and they prohibit much more that "directly profiting from the group's ads."
Again, the only question that really matters is whether or not David Axelrod violated any of the federal laws.
To get to the bottom of that question, it will be necessary to know, in detail, the exact terms of Mr. Axelrod's deal with his firm, especially whether any of the payments he is owed are contingent upon the firm's financial performance in any of the years in which Mr. Axelrod is owed money. Obviously if the firm has the right to waive or suspend payments in lean years, and effort by Mr. Axelrod to direct cash to the firm would be a conflict of interest. A thorough investigation would also require details as to the firm's overall financial health --if it had obligations in excess of revenues until the controversial ad campaign revenues began to arrive, that would be a huge issue. And of course we need to know how often Axelrod has been in contact with the owners and employees of the firm.