Sen. Joseph Biden may boast that he takes Amtrak home to Delaware every night, but his younger son, Robert Hunter Biden, appears to be a creature of the Washington establishment.
“Hunter,” as friends and family call him, is a 38-year-old lawyer whose work as a lobbyist and a hedge fund principal has created some awkward moments for the elder Biden, just as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee is emphasizing his working-class origins and how he has tackled moneyed interests on behalf of ordinary Americans.
Hunter Biden, the second son of Biden and his late wife, Neilia, served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after graduating from Georgetown University. Right out of Yale Law School, he landed a job with financial services giant MBNA, the largest employer in Delaware and a major contributor to his father’s campaigns.
After stints as a presidential appointee in Bill Clinton’s Commerce Department and a consultant for MBNA, he went into business with William Oldaker, a former Federal Election Commission counsel and longtime adviser and fund-raiser for his father.
Oldaker, Biden & Belair, LLP made $1.7 million in the first six months of this year, and is registered to represent clients including the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, the National Association of Shareholders & Consumer Attorneys and a number of colleges and hospitals.
Biden’s clients reported paying the company $470,000 so far this year, according to the analysis by USA Today.
It is not illegal for a member of Congress to have a relative in the lobbying profession. At least 24 House members and 31 senators had relatives registered as lobbyists in the 2002, 2004 and 2006 election cycles, according to research by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group.
But the reports about Hunter Biden’s business activities are particularly sensitive at a time when presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama has vowed to reduce the influence of special interest groups on policymaking and barred contributions from lobbyists.
The Washington Post, for instance, documented how the younger Biden sought help from Obama’s staff to secure earmarks for several of his Illinois clients, including a college nursing program and a hospital.
The paper reported that Hunter Biden got the cooperation of Obama’s office to win $190,000 in federal funds for St. Xavier University, a four-year, 5,600-student institution run by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy in suburban Chicago.
Biden also sought help from Obama’s staff to get funding for Chicago’s Thorek Memorial Hospital. In 2006, Obama asked for $2 million for a cancer research treatment center there, according to a letter requesting the money posted on Obama’s campaign website. Hunter Biden was the registered lobbyist and his firm was paid $120,000 for representing Thorek, which has not received funding, according to the Post.
Obama spokesman David Wade told the Post that Hunter Biden never appealed directly to the senator.
“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.”
Prior to working for Oldaker, Hunter Biden was the senior vice president and then a consultant for credit card company MBNA Corp.
From 2001 to 2005, he was paid an undisclosed amount by the company, which has since been purchased by Bank of America.
Those were the same years that his father was helping the credit card industry win passage of a law making it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection – a law opposed by Obama and which was finally passed in 2005.
Obama aides told the New York Times that Hunter Biden had never lobbied for MBNA and that there was nothing improper about the consulting payments.
Besides his lobbying and consulting work, Hunter Biden is also chairman of a New York-based hedge fund group, called Paradigm Global Advisers, which faces lawsuits from a former business partner, a former investor, and a former executive, all of whom claim they were defrauded. Besides Hunter Biden, his uncle, James Biden, is a principal in Paradigm.
In one lawsuit, former investor Anthony Lotito contends that James Biden called him in January, 2006, asking him to arrange a job for Hunter Biden because of Joseph Biden’s concerns that his son’s lobbying career might hurt his bid for the White House.
Lotito provides no evidence of the senator’s involvement in the court papers, however. Hunter and James Biden countersued, saying their former partner defrauded them by misrepresenting his experience in the hedge fund industry and recommending that they hire a lawyer with felony convictions.
In an affidavit, Hunter Biden said his father had nothing to do with the deal.
The campaign of Sens. Barack Obama and Biden declined to discuss the case, referring questions to Nicholas Gravante Jr., a lawyer representing Hunter and James Biden. Gravante told the Washington Post that assertions that Joseph Biden told his brother he was concerned about his son’s lobbying are “absolutely false.”