Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has reservations about accepting an appointment as secretary of state in the Obama administration, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton who is familiar with her thinking said on Tuesday.
The adviser described Mrs. Clinton as flattered by President-elect Barack Obama’s interest but said she was agonizing over the decision. Mrs. Clinton likes being her own boss and is reluctant to give up the independence that comes with that, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process was at a delicate stage.
“If you are secretary of state you work for the president,” the adviser said in an e-mail response to questions from The New York Times. “If you are a senator, you work for yourself and the people that elected you.”
It was unclear if Mrs. Clinton’s stated hesitation was part of a bargaining tactic as the Obama team weighs whether to appoint her secretary of state, a genuine moment of indecision or, perhaps, a signal that she was preparing to withdraw from consideration.
Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, declined to comment, referring questions to the Obama transition team.
Review of Bill Clinton's dealings
The Clinton camp on Tuesday sought to rebut reports that former President Bill Clinton's finances and other interests could block Mrs. Clinton’s path to an appointment.
Mr. Obama’s aides this week have been reviewing Mr. Clinton’s business dealings, focusing on the array of his post-presidential activities, some details of which have not been made public.
That includes the identity of most of the donors to his foundation, the source of some of his speaking fees — he has earned as much as $425,000 for a one-hour speech — and his work for the billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle.
“Issues around W.J.C. won’t be the stumbling block,” the adviser to Mrs. Clinton said in the e-mail message to The Times. “She hasn’t decided whether she wants to leave the Senate.”
The adviser added that lawyers conducting the vetting process for Mr. Obama and aides to Mrs. Clinton made progress on Tuesday in resolving some questions around Mr. Clinton’s interests.
Another run for president?
Mrs. Clinton’s advisers do not believe that joining the Obama cabinet would preclude her from running for president again, if she sought to do so, though she has played down the possibility of another bid for the White House.
“In fact I could argue it would be better for that,” the adviser said, noting that it would provide her “full immersion into the Obama wing” of the Democratic Party.
Mrs. Clinton was rebounding from her primary defeat at the hands of Mr. Obama and expressed eagerness to dive into some of the major domestic policy proposals Congress will grapple with in the coming term, especially health care.
But last Thursday, her onetime rival reached out to her and Mrs. Clinton traveled to Chicago, where they discussed the possibility of the secretary of state job.
“She thinks Obama has been great to ask, and she has been well-treated during the process,” the adviser to Mrs. Clinton said. “But she’s unsure.”
Mountain of campaign debt
One complication that Mrs. Clinton will face if she becomes secretary of state is the mountain of campaign debt leftover from her presidential run.
Mrs. Clinton has $7.6 million in outstanding bills from the campaign, Mr. Reines said, not including personal loans she made to her campaign.
The Hatch Act, which governs the political activities of federal employees, prohibits the solicitation and receipt of political contributions. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the United States Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, pointed to a 2001 advisory opinion issued by the agency.
The opinion stipulates that a federal employee seeking to retire campaign debt incurred before his or her federal employment would be barred from personally soliciting the donations, but the “campaign organization of a candidate who later becomes a federal employee may continue to organize and promote fund-raising events to retire campaign debt.”
The advisory opinion goes on to say that the former candidate cannot “assist in promoting the event and may not otherwise actively participate in such events.”
On the other hand, it says that the former candidate can attend the fund-raising events and “be recognized and briefly state his appreciation to all whose efforts contributed to the retirement of his campaign debt,” but any participation beyond “this passive role” would violate the law.
There is also the obvious question of appearances. Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said that cabinet members were typically given wider latitude when it came to political activities, but pointed out that there was special sensitivity when it came to the State Department and the Pentagon.