Obama, Bi­den’s Son Linked by Earmarks

Can­di­date Got Fund­ing for Nurs­ing Pro­gram

The Washington Post - - Chris Cillizza - By James V. Grimaldi and Kim­berly Kindy

Sen. Barack Obama sought more than $3.4 mil­lion in con­gres­sional earmarks for clients of the lob­by­ist son of his Demo­cratic run­ning mate, Sen. Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. of Delaware, records show. Obama suc­ceeded in get­ting $192,000 for one of the clients, St. Xavier Uni­ver­sity in sub­ur­ban Chicago.

Obama’s cam­paign has taken a hard stance against the world of lob­by­ing in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Obama said he lim­its his own ef­forts to get money for pet projects — a process known as ear­mark­ing — to those that ben­e­fit the pub­lic. He has posted his ear­mark re­quests on his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign Web site to en­cour­age trans­parency.

Since Obama an­nounced his se­lec­tion of Bi­den on Satur­day, at­ten­tion has fo­cused on Bi­den’s lob­by­ing con­nec­tions as well as his son’s lob­by­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. R. Hunter Bi­den is one of many rel­a­tives of mem­bers of Congress who work as lob­by­ists.

The younger Bi­den started his ca­reer as a lob­by­ist in 2001 and has reg­is­tered to rep­re­sent about 21 clients that have brought in $3.5 mil­lion to his Wash­ing­ton firm, ac­cord­ing to lob­by­ing dis­clo­sure forms.

Sen. Bi­den has col­lected more than $6.9 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from lob­by­ists and lawyers since 1989, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

Aspokesman for the Obama cam­paign said that Hunter Bi­den him­self has never lob­bied his fa­ther. An­other lob­by­ist in the firm suc­cess­fully sought an ear­mark from the se­na­tor for the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware. But Hunter did not work on the ac­count, the spokesman said.

Cam­paign spokesman David Wade also said Hunter Bi­den never ap­pealed di­rectly to Obama.

“Hunter Bi­den met with the Obama Se­nate of­fice, not with Se­na­tor Obama,” Wade said. “It’s hardly sur­pris­ing that a Se­na­tor from Illi­nois would fight for in­vest­ments in Mercy Hospi­tal, Thorek Hospi­tal and St. Xavier Uni­ver­sity right in Illi­nois, or that he’d be joined in that ef­fort by a Repub­li­can col­league, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Judy Big­gert.”

Hunter Bi­den, a 38-year-old Ge­orge­town grad­u­ate and Yale-trained lawyer, is a name part­ner in the firm Ol­daker, Bi­den & Be­lair, founded by William Ol­daker, an elec­tion lawyer and lob­by­ist who worked on Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy’s 1980 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and has been a fundraiser and cam­paign ad­viser for Sen. Bi­den.

An anal­y­sis for The Wash­ing­ton Post by Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense of Hunter Bi­den’s firm’s lob­by­ing busi­ness found that its clients col­lected $2.7 mil­lion in earmarks in the last fis­cal year.

One of those clients was St. Xavier Uni­ver­sity, a four-year, 5,600-stu­dent in­sti­tu­tion run by the Ro­man Catholic Sis­ters of Mercy in Or­land Park, Ill. Steve Mur­phy, vice pres­i­dent for uni­ver­sity ad­vance­ment, said Hunter Bi­den ap­proached him in 2005 of­fer­ing to se­cure con­gres­sional earmarks.

Hunter Bi­den and his col­league, Eric Sch­w­erin, told Mur­phy they were “work­ing with a num­ber of clients, in­sti­tu­tions like yours, and we would like to help you iden­tify earmarks, fed­eral sup­port and grants.”

Mur­phy said he found Bi­den’s parent­age a sell­ing point. Mur­phy then ac­com­pa­nied Bi­den to the offices of the Illi­nois del­e­ga­tion, in­clud­ing Obama’s.

Obama re­quested $1.4 mil­lion for St. Xavier, in­clud­ing $900,000 to es­tab­lish an ear­ly­child­hood teacher train­ing cen­ter “to meet the de­mand in the south­west Chicago metropoli­tan area,” ac­cord­ing to a news release on the Web site of Obama’s Se­nate of­fice. Obama re­quested the early-child­hood money in both 2006 and 2007.

Obama also in June 2007 sought $500,000 for a skills lab­o­ra­tory for St. Xavier’s nurs­ing school, which has one of the largest nurs­ing pro­grams in the state.

In the end, Obama’s $1.4 mil­lion in re­quests re­sulted in $192,000 for the nurs­ing fa­cil­ity.

Mur­phy said that a big sell­ing point was the di­ver­sity of the nurs­ing stu­dents, who of­ten ended up work­ing in com­mu­ni­ties where nurses were in short­age.

“Two years ago, we grad­u­ated more African Amer­i­can and His­panic nurses than any pri­vate col­lege in the state of Illi­nois,” Mur­phy said. “I’m not at all apolo­getic that we asked for fed­eral sup­port for huge health-care needs of this grow­ing com­mu­nity.”

Since Hunter Bi­den signed St. Xavier as a client in De­cem­ber 2005, the firm has earned $320,000 from the uni­ver­sity.

In 2006, Obama also asked for $2 mil­lion for a can­cer re­search treat­ment cen­ter at Chicago’s Thorek Memo­rial Hospi­tal, ac­cord­ing to an Obama let­ter re­quest­ing the money posted on Obama’s cam­paign Web site. Hunt- er Bi­den was the reg­is­tered lob­by­ist and his firm was paid $120,000 for rep­re­sent­ing Thorek, which has not re­ceived fund­ing.

Obama’s spokesman also ac­knowl­edged lob­by­ing for Mercy Hospi­tal, an­other client of Hunter Bi­den.

In ad­di­tion to his work for uni­ver­si­ties, Hunter Bi­den has done con­sult­ing work for MBNA, the largest em­ployer in Delaware.

From 2001 to 2005, Hunter was paid an undis­closed amount by the credit card gi­ant, which has since been pur­chased by Bank of Amer­ica. It has been widely re­ported that he re­ceived $100,000 a year.

At the time, Sen. Bi­den led a suc­cess­ful, high-pro­file bat­tle in the Se­nate for a bank­ruptcy bill that ul­ti­mately ben­e­fited credit card com­pa­nies. The law makes it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to file for per­sonal bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion un­der Chap­ter 7.

“He was a cru­cial sup­porter of the law in that he paved the way for other Democrats to sup­port it,” said Travis Plun­kett, leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­sumer Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica, a con­sumer group that op­posed the bill. “Se­na­tor Bi­den pro­vided a lot of po­lit­i­cal cover for the credit card in­dus­try be­cause they wanted to show that the pro­posal had bi­par­ti­san sup­port. He ag­gres­sively un­der­mined the op­po­si­tion to the bill.”

Over the past two decades, MBNA em­ploy­ees have given more than $200,000 to Bi­den’s Se­nate cam­paigns, more than work­ers from any other com­pany.

Wade said Hunter Bi­den was hired by MBNA af­ter work­ing as a Com­merce Depart­ment lawyer on In­ter­net pri­vacy and on­line com­merce is­sues. “Hunter con­sulted for five years as an ex­pert on th­ese very same is­sues at a time of enor­mous ex­pan­sion in on­line bank­ing,” Wade said. “He was never a lob­by­ist for MBNA, and his work had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the bank­ruptcy bill. Zero. Noth­ing.”

Hunter Bi­den also lob­bied for Nap­ster, the mu­sic-shar­ing Web site that ran afoul of in­tel­lec­tual-prop­erty laws. Sen. Bi­den at the time was a se­nior mem­ber of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, which over­sees laws gov­ern­ing in­tel­lec­tual-prop­erty rights.

Wade said Hunter Bi­den is care­ful not to ap­proach his fa­ther when lob­by­ing. Wade said the younger Bi­den does not share in rev­enue of other part­ners, so he does not di­rectly ben­e­fit from their ac­tiv­i­ties.

When he in­tro­duced him as his run­ning mate, Obama said of Bi­den: “He has brought change to Wash­ing­ton, but Wash­ing­ton hasn’t changed him.” But Repub­li­cans quickly at­tacked Bi­den’s con­nec­tions to lob­by­ists.

“While Barack Obama de­cries Wash­ing­ton in­sid­ers and says that he detests lob­by­ists, Joe Bi­den is the model Wash­ing­ton in­sider with nu­mer­ous con­nec­tions to lob­by­ists and spe­cial in­ter­ests,” Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokesman Danny Diaz said.

Wade de­fended Bi­den, say­ing he has been “as strong a sup­porter of ethics re­form as the Se­nate has ever known, and his of­fice fol­lows all ethics laws right down to the let­ter.” Re­search ed­i­tor Alice Crites and data­base ed­i­tor Sarah Co­hen con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Now that Sen. Joseph Bi­den, left, is the Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, con­gres­sional ties to his lob­by­ist son Hunter, right, are com­ing un­der scru­tiny.

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