Share

POLITICS

Joe Biden's merry band of lobbyists

By |

Vice President Biden's latest fundraising e-mail asks for help battling "corporate interests." "By spending an unprecedented amount of cash to support Republicans," Biden writes, "they're doing their best to buy their way back into power."

This is the style of Obama's White House: Never grant that your opponents disagree in good faith and always accuse them of corruption. Beyond being unfair, it's dishonest, because it ignores the White House's coziness with corporate lobbyists.

Biden, in particular, lacks credibility on the matter. His son, his longtime lead fundraiser, his chief of staff, and his deputy chief of staff are all current or former lobbyists. And Biden's policies often dovetail conspicuously with his lobbyist friends' interests.

When Obama accused Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008 of "siding with banking industry lobbyists" for supporting a bill to toughen bankruptcy laws, Biden -- a champion of the bankruptcy bill -- would have been a more fitting target.

Biden's greatest source of campaign funds while pushing the bankruptcy reform bill was Delaware bank MBNA. The relationship began during the 1996 election, just after the bank moved to Wilmington. Biden that year sold his house to a top MBNA executive and campaign supporter for $1.2 million, which equaled Biden's asking price and the appraisal at a time when nearby homes were selling for less than appraised value. Biden angrily denied charges that the sale was a sweetheart deal. Once Biden won re-election, MBNA hired his son Hunter as a "consultant".

Hunter soon founded a lobbying firm with William Oldaker, Biden's adviser in his 1988 presidential run and longtime campaign treasurer. Oldaker admits he has lobbied Biden's Senate office, and it has paid off. ABC News reported in 2008 that since Oldaker & Biden started representing the University of Delaware, "the university has paid Oldaker's firm $1.5 million. The payoff: As of 2006, $24.8 million in earmarks for defense research, a student-exchange program, and a drug-and-alcohol-studies program."

(Incidentally, Oldaker, Belair, & Wittie, as the firm is now known since Hunter quit the firm, is representing Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., while also running some of Rangel's fundraising.)

Hunter Biden and William Oldaker aren't Joe Biden's only intimates from K Street. Biden's top two White House aides -- Ron Klain and Alan Hoffman-- also come from K Street.

Klain, now the vice president's chief of staff, first went to K Street from the Clinton White House in 2000. At O'Melveny & Myers, he put his top-level connections to work for companies facing asbestos lawsuits, and for US Airways, which was seeking merger approval from the Clinton administration.

From 2002 through 2004, as befits any top-tier Democratic revolving-door type, Klain lobbied on behalf of Fannie Mae, that government-sponsored, bubble-creating slush fund for Washington's well-connected. Klain lobbied on "regulatory issues," according to federal filings. Translation: He worked against Republican efforts to curb Fannie's government-subsidized excesses.

Hoffman, Biden's deputy chief of staff, has spun through the revolving door at least four times. Biden hired Hoffman as Senate chief of staff in 1998, and Hoffman cashed out five years later to join K Street's Timmons & Co., where he lobbied for Boeing, the American Council of Life Insurers, Visa, Northrop Grumman, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Chrysler and, of course, Freddie Mac, which is Fannie Mae's little brother. Contemporaneously, Hoffman was a lobbyist and an executive for Rand Corp., a massive government-funded consultancy.

In 2007, Biden hired Hoffman back as chief of staff. After Biden quit the presidential race, Hoffman went back to lobbying, this time as "senior vice president for external relations" for the University of California system. Hoffman then took his fourth spin through the revolving door in 2009 to become Biden's deputy chief of staff.

There's an episode in the Hoffman-Biden relationship that smells a bit like undue "corporate influence," as Biden might put it. At Timmons & Co., in the middle of the last decade, Hoffman represented oil company Unocal (since merged with Chevron) on issues related to Burma sanctions. When the House in 2007 passed a measure tightening sanctions on the military dictatorship, the bill explicitly prohibited U.S. companies from paying Burma royalties for natural gas fields and pipelines, as Unocal was doing at the time. Biden in 2008 -- with former Unocal lobbyist Hoffman now running his Senate office -- took credit for "spearheading" the Senate bill, which stripped the natural gas provision and exempted Unocal/Chevron from the sanctions.

Biden is correct that corporate lobbyists have too much influence in Washington. His own record proves it.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.

View article comments Leave a comment