Politics & Government

Son's fees cloud Biden's bankruptcy bill push

During the years that Sen. Joe Biden 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 said 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 announced Biden as his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, said the younger Biden, who is a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington, never lobbied for MBNA and that there was nothing improper about the payments.

Biden's support for the bankruptcy changes, 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.

In late 1996, MBNA (which was bought in 2006 by Bank of America), 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, 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 74-25.

Hunter Biden, through his assistant at his law firm, Oldaker Biden & Belair, referred a request for comment to the Obama campaign. James Mahoney, chief spokesman for Bank of America, said the consulting arrangement had ended by the time Bank of America took over MBNA in January 2006.

Aides to the Obama campaign said Sunday that Sen. Biden sought several changes in the bill to protect consumers that upset MBNA executives, then the largest employer in Delaware, while acknowledging that he also voted against other amendments proposed by other Democrats.