Is A Career A Conflict?

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Lynne Cheney has never cared for the niceties of politics. Brash, outspoken and proud of her prickly intelligence, she has written five books, co-hosted CNN's Crossfire, chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities and consistently enraged liberals with her conservative views on feminism, education and political correctness. So it's only natural that the wife of Vice President-elect Dick Cheney is again breaking into new territory and raising some eyebrows. After a temporary leave of absence from her career during the campaign, Cheney last week announced that she will do what no presidential or vice-presidential spouse has done before: she will work outside the home. She will get paid for it. And she will not apologize.

After her husband is sworn in, Cheney will return to her positions on the boards of Reader's Digest and AXP Mutual, a subsidiary of American Express. Citing time constraints, she has resigned from the boards of two other firms--including defense contractor Lockheed Martin--but will continue her association with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. And why not? At 59, Cheney has a life. "I have worked in some fashion my whole life," she told TIME. "It would seem as if I were turning into someone who was not me if I were to take another path."

But Cheney's path has obvious perils. Many accomplished couples, including members of Congress, navigate this tricky terrain, a place where one spouse's success can create conflicts of interest for the other. But the stakes are higher at the top. When Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted an $8 million book advance from Simon & Schuster, she was criticized for profiting from both her marriage and the largesse of a company with issues before Congress. And Cheney will be paid by corporations that may sooner or later lobby her husband's Administration. She was wise to drop her affiliation with Lockheed Martin, a corporation with much to gain from Bush Administration decisions, but American Express has its own lobbying outfit on Capitol Hill and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to persuade politicians to vote its way on tax and banking issues.

In 2001, company spokesmen told TIME, Cheney's compensation from the two boards will total more than $150,000 in cash and stock. And she does not rule out accepting additional posts in the future. To be sure, there's nothing illegal about remaining on the boards. Says Charles Lewis of Washington's Center for Public Integrity: "It's a perception issue, not a legal one. It doesn't look so good if she is out there schmoozing with the captains of industry who are benefiting from her stature while her husband is deciding policy that might affect these companies."

"You don't want to tell people they can't have a life," says Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration. "The [challenge] is to square that life with the responsibilities of the spouse. How does [Dick] Cheney recuse himself from questions that affect her board?"

Lynne Cheney dismisses such worries. "I am not concerned about that," she says. "I will continue to be a responsible scholar and a responsible spokesman and a responsible board member and to keep my life separate from my husband's."