The Trump camp is making a very big deal out of Hunter Biden’s 2014 gig with a Ukrainian oligarch. This was a time when his father, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president, was pressing Ukraine’s leaders to rein in its oligarchs. As it happened, Hunter’s membership on the oligarch’s board in no way weakened Joe Biden’s—or America’s—anti-corruption message to Ukraine.
That didn’t make it OK, however. It was another lamentable example of political relatives vacuuming up fast dollars on the assumption that they might influence powerful family members (or those who work for them) on their benefactors’ behalf.
Now even Rudolph Giuliani sees the insanity of his planned trip to Ukraine to see whether its new leadership might help re-elect Donald Trump by dredging up of more dirt on Hunter. The Mueller report notwithstanding, suspicions that Team Trump world work with foreign adversaries to get the man elected remain very much alive. Giuliani eventually saw the wisdom of canceling the trip.
Members of big-name political families do get choice jobs at law and lobbying firms, and it would be silly to assert it never has anything to do with their relations. But the politicians really should stop obviously unqualified relatives from taking jobs blatantly created to suggest special influence with them. This ugly practice infects all parties.
George H.W. Bush was vice president when the savings and loan scandal exploded. His son Neil Bush was a board member of Silverado, a Denver S & L that went bankrupt at a cost to taxpayers of about $1 billion. Government agencies overseeing the mess concluded that Neil failed to disclose his former business ties to people who borrowed considerable sums from Silverado and paid back not a penny.
When his brother, George W., became president, Neil was hired as a consultant to a Chinese company, Grace Semiconductor. Though Neil admitted he knew nothing about semiconductors, Grace nonetheless paid him $2 million in company stock over five years and $10,000 for every board meeting he attended.
There’s no evidence that either Bush president interceded on Neil’s employers’ behalf. At the same time, seeing young political “royals” with a less-than-stellar business career float into plum positions demoralizes the commoners. The oft-used “He’s a private citizen” excuse simply does not wash.
Back on the Democratic—or rather, the democratic socialist—side, Jane O’Meara Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders, became president of Burlington College in 2004. Under her leadership, the college paid $328,000 to place students in a woodworking school run by her daughter (Bernie’s stepdaughter).
Here’s where the ethical problems really began. In 2010, O’Meara had the school borrow $10 million to buy lakefront property. To secure the loan, she listed financial commitments by sources, two of which later said were highly exaggerated. The college collapsed six years later under crushing debt—but after O’Meara resigned with a $200,000 severance payment.
Its last president, Carol Moore, asked, “What bank lends a small, private, unendowed college of that size and financial status an amount that so obviously outweighs its ability to repay?”
You know the answer. Your average Vermonter undoubtedly wouldn’t get such a loan. A Vermonter married to a prominent U.S. senator? That’s something else.
Joe Biden is a basically good man and the ideal Democrat to beat Trump in 2020. But I really, really don’t want to have to write again about his family members cashing in on the Biden name.
Never mind that Trump has trampled these standards in his mob-influenced style of letting everyone know he can get away with it. Let’s hold onto them in the event that Americans again demand rectitude in public service. It could happen.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.