Former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn is no stranger to controversy. After having been exposed as an admirer of the Communist Chinese dictator Mao Tse Tung in 2010, Dunn seemed to fade from public view. She left her post as White House Communications Director much the same way avowed communist and truther Van Jones abandoned his post as Green Jobs Czar, and much like Jones, receded to private practice and contributor gigs on the major news shows.

Until now.

Through a good chunk of the 2012 election, Dunn has become an increasingly vital force within the Obama campaign, helping with the President’s debate prep (she played Candy Crowley in the preparation for last week’s town hall debate) and offering strategic pointers on White House communications strategies. It’s a lurch back into the halls of power that has many questioning whether Dunn can manage to neatly separate her job as a private communications consultant from her position as a White House adviser, or if she is actually – unethically – using her access to the President to bolster her private work.

Nor is this concern over Dunn’s influence within the administration limited to the President’s critics. Many Democrats, especially from the Clinton era, are disgusted by what they perceive as an ethical lapse from the standards practiced by former President Clinton, according to the Daily Beast:

A White House aide conceded being “pissed off” by the story, expressing concern that Mitt Romney could use it to ridicule Obama’s pledges to change Washington’s political culture.

[...]

As a consultant, not a registered lobbyist, Dunn is not covered by the same ethics rules that mandate disclosing clients or activities. She was required to heed rules for exiting political appointees, effectively barring direct communication with administration officials on behalf of clients for two years.

Still, her activities have troubled even some of her allies, who point to revolving door precedents in Washington and worry that Dunn’s work may have strained those standards. She maintained frequent contacts with the White House while her firm was representing a growing list of companies with interests in government policy. [...]

Criticism of Dunn came, too, from a former high-ranking Clinton administration official who remains friends with many in the Obama administration and thus also requested anonymity.

“I cannot imagine anyone with that kind of ongoing practice being allowed to be a regular participant in White House meetings under Clinton—or any other president,” he said.

Under Clinton, [Chief of Staff] Leon Panetta would have shut it down in a minute,” the former Clinton official argued in an email regarding Dunn’s White House visits. “And it is accentuated by the fact she is obviously profiteering massively and quickly from perceived access—firm doubling to 60 employees since she came back from the White House in 2009!”

To be fair to Dunn, she has apparently been operating under self-imposed, strict rules in terms that outstrip ethical guidelines and the law regarding how she handles access. Nevertheless, for those with a background in Washington business, her conflict of interest still smells funny, though by no means unique. Such conflicts of interest are not only common, but almost expected in the nation’s capital, and the big question among Washington insiders is often not so much whether to trade access for money, but simply to what degree one can do that before falling afoul of the law (as in the case of lobbyist Jack Abramoff).

Nevertheless, the criticism of Dunn also suggests another problem for Democrats — namely, publicized friction in the Obama campaign. The last time discontent over such a high ranking presidential campaign staffer was expressed, it was in late September over Mitt Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens. Dunn’s venture onto the hot seat may spell trouble for the Obama camp.