During the years that Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was helping the credit card industry win passage of a law making it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection, his son received more than ($400,000 ) in consulting fees from one of the largest companies pushing for the changes, aides to Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign acknowledged Sunday.
Biden’s son, Hunter, received the fees from MBNA Corp. from 2001 to 2005 for consulting work on online banking issues. Aides to Obama, who chose Biden as his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, said the younger Biden, who works as both a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, never lobbied for MBNA and that there was nothing improper about any of the payments.
But campaign officials acknowledged that the connection between the Bidens and MBNA, the enormous financial services company then based in their home state of Delaware, was one of the most sensitive issues they examined while vetting the senator for a spot on the ticket.
Biden’s support for the bankruptcy changes, which were signed into law in 2005, puts him at odds with Obama of Illinois, who opposed the bill and has criticized the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for supporting it. Consumer advocates and other Democratic allies remain sharply critical of Biden’s actions, saying in recent days that they could hamper the campaign’s efforts to attack the Republicans over their handling of the nation’s credit crisis.
The financial services industry began seeking relief from Congress in the mid-1990s from an increase in bankruptcies that was cutting into its profits. Its initial support came from Republican lawmakers, who repeatedly introduced bills to make it more difficult for consumers to erase their debts. During that time, executives at MBNA, which was bought in 2006 by Bank of America, began donating heavily to both major political parties and many national politicians, including Biden.
In late 1996, the company hired the younger of Biden’s two sons, Robert Hunter Biden, known as Hunter, who had just graduated from Yale Law School, as a lawyer. The company promoted Biden to senior vice president by early 1998. And after the younger Biden worked at the Commerce Department on electronic commerce issues from 1998 to 2001, MBNA hired him back on a monthly consulting contract to advise it on such issues, aides said.
Consumer advocates say that Sen. Biden was one of the first Democratic leaders to support the bankruptcy bill, and he voted for it four times — in 1998, 2000, 2001 and in March 2005, when its final version passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25.
Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer group that opposed the bill, said that Sen. Biden had provided a “veneer of bipartisanship” that eventually helped the credit card companies win over other Democrats.