Oct 2, 2008

Time For Some Balance

Pretty every New Zealander we talk to has negative things to say about the next Vice President of the US Sarah Palin. Well read this, from the New York Times, about the guy she is up against as Vice President, dodgy Joe Biden. This guy looks like the US answer to Winston Peters

Although he is among the least wealthy members of the millionaires club that is the United States Senate — he and his wife, Jill, a college professor, earn about $250,000 a year — Mr. Biden maintains a lifestyle that is more comfortable than the impression he may have given on the campaign trail. A review of his finances found that when it comes to some of his largest expenses, like the purchase and upkeep of his home and his use of Amtrak trains to get around, he has benefited from resources and relationships not available to average Americans.
As a secure incumbent who has rarely faced serious competition during 35 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden has been able to dip into his campaign treasury to spend thousands of dollars on home landscaping and some of his Amtrak travel between Wilmington, Del., where he lives, and Washington. And the acquisition of his waterfront property a decade ago involved wealthy businessmen and campaign supporters, some of them bankers with an interest in legislation before the Senate, who bought his old house for top dollar, sold him four acres at cost and lent him $500,000 to build his new home.
There is nothing to suggest Mr. Biden bent any rules in the sale, purchase and financing of his homes. Rather, he appears to have benefited at times from the simple fact of who he is: a United States senator, not just “Amtrak Joe,” the train-riding everyman that the Obama-Biden campaign has deployed to rally middle-class voters.
“He was a V.I.P., so he was treated accordingly by the bank,” said Ronald Tennant, a former loan officer who handled the mortgages Mr. Biden used to build his house. The bank did not give him a below-market interest rate, a perk that has caused embarrassment for some other members of Congress. But, Mr. Tennant said, “We paid particularly close attention to make sure everything came out right.”
Mr. Biden’s campaign said that he neither received special treatment nor offered any to the people he has dealt with in real estate and banking, and that he had not left a misleading impression of his wealth with voters. The senator, said David Wade, his spokesman, “has never forgotten where he came from, or how he grew up, and those middle-class values motivate his work for the middle class.”
“He appreciates,” Mr. Wade continued, “that with his income as a senator he has been blessed to live comfortably, provide for his family, send his kids to college, and have the home his family dreamed of.”
As for the payments by Mr. Biden’s campaign committee, Citizens for Biden, his aides insisted they were not used to cover the senator’s living expenses, which would be illegal. Election lawyers said that the law does not spell out all the ways an officeholder could benefit personally from the use of campaign money, and that regulators are generally reluctant to challenge the justifications campaign committees use.
Mr. Biden’s campaign said the payments to tree trimmers and lawn services, typically totaling a few thousand dollars a year, were permissible because they were tied to political events at his home. Jim Whittaker, co-owner of Grass Roots Inc., which was paid $4,345 in 2000, said the payment probably represented several visits to the senator’s property, adding that Mr. Biden was “late paying the bill one time.”
“We cut the grass and put sod down for him, did spring cleanups, mulching and knocked down vegetation,” Mr. Whittaker said. “One time we did a mulching job and he was having an event, but I don’t know if it was political or just for friends.”
Beyond landscaping costs, one of the Biden campaign’s largest regular expenditures is for Amtrak tickets for the senator and his aides or consultants. Going back to 2001, those expenses typically ranged from $9,000 to $15,000 a year — far exceeding that of his colleagues in
Delaware’s Congressional delegation, whose campaigns spent between $500 and $3,000, federal election records show. Like Mr. Biden, Delaware’s other senator, Thomas R. Carper, and Representative Michael N. Castle commute daily to Washington, their offices said.
Commuting on the train to and from Washington is an expensive proposition, $84 round trip from Wilmington or $1,062 for a monthly pass, although Amtrak offers a little-known discount for federal employees traveling on business. Senators cannot use their office travel allowance for commuting, according to a spokesman for the Senate Rules Committee.