By James V. Grimaldi and Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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.
A spokesman 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 early-childhood 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. Hunter 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.