Money and Democracy

Published — August 26, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

The buying of Joe Biden?


Following Barack Obama’s announcement of his running mate Saturday, the blogosphere and traditional media have been atwitter with the question of who, if anyone, owns Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. Since we have more than a passing interest in the influence money has on politics, we decided to throw our two cents in, as well.

Biden’s experience with interest groups was shaped in 1987 when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he worked to defeat Ronald Reagan’s controversial Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. In July 2001 he said on NBC’s Meet the Press:

I have a basic rule that you can check out. I don’t speak to interest groups anymore. Ever since the Bork hearing, which was referenced, where I sat down, met with the civil rights groups, told them how I was going to run the hearing, they walked out, held a press conference, and went in and said, ‘We told Joe Biden how to run the hearing,’ which ruined my reputation. Therefore, I don’t meet with them anymore. I don’t give a damn about those groups. I don’t listen to what they have to say in this matter.

That hasn’t stopped him, however, from voting for the interests of the banking industry, much of which is based in his home state of Delaware. His support for the industry-backed bankruptcy reform bill in 2005 led many bloggers on the left to give him the tag “Biden (D-MBNA),” a reference to the credit card company (now merged with Bank of America) that was his state’s largest private employer. Nevertheless, the industry was responsible for only a fraction of the contributions to his 2008 run for president.

Speaking of the presidential race, compared to the campaign cash already raked by McCain ($174 million so far) and Obama ($389 million to date), the $13 million Biden raised for his 2008 run seems like chump change.

Additionally, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s PowerTrips database, Biden took 61 sponsored trips between 2000 and 2005. Sounds like a sell out? Well, maybe not. Most of his corporate trips were paid for by TV news programs, usually for Biden’s appearances on Meet the Press. Does that mean a VP Biden will move to make Meet the Press the official Sunday political chat show of the Democratic Party? We’ll be keeping a wary eye on it.

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