The Barak Obama presidential campaign reacted quickly to reports Friday that Hunter Biden, son of Obama's vice-presidential running mate Senator Joe Biden, was associated with lobbying activities to legalise online gambling for client Russ De Leon, a shareholder in the Party Gaming group.
The New York Times reports that the Obama campaign claimed that Hunter Biden (38) quit working as a Washington lobbyist when his father became Obama's running mate.
Revelations that Hunter's law firm Oldaker, Biden and Belair were involved in lobbying for the legalisation of Internet gambling on behalf of De Leon's lawyers had earlier sparked controversy in the neck-and-neck presidential race, given Senator Obama's denunciations of influence-peddling in the capital, and the strong "honest government" line taken by the McCain campaign.
A spokesman for Obama's presidential campaign said that Biden jnr. had stopped lobbying for nine clients shortly after his father was chosen last month as Obama's running mate. But the campaign did not announce that he had given up lobbying until reporters asked questions about his recent work for a couple allegedly under federal investigation over online gambling.
The NY Times reports that federal lobbying records show that Hunter Biden's firm was hired in June by lawyers for J. Russell DeLeon and his wife, Ruth Parasol, billionaire expatriates who founded PartyPoker. Their London-listed company, PartyGaming plc, stopped doing business in the United States after President Bush signed the Unlawful Internat Gambling Enforcement Act into law in 2006 aimed at curbing online gambling. Party Gaming is currently reported to be negotiating with federal authorities to clean the slate on its American activities prior to the UIGEA.
Wyeth Wiedeman, a lobbyist hired by DeLeon and Parasol, confirmed to the NY Times that Biden jnr. helped put together a lobbying campaign to persuade Congress to pass a law that would clarify the question about whether online gambling was legal prior to 2006. Wiedeman said the US Justice Department has been examining the couple and others involved with the PartyPoker site.
Wiedeman said he also discussed the issue with staff officials of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Biden snr. serves, but he said he did not talk to the senator about the gambling issues, and claimed that Hunter Biden was not involved in any of the lobbying on the Senate side.
David Wade, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said Hunter Biden's involvement in the lobbying effort "gives much ado about nothing a whole new meaning." He said Biden was hired by PartyGaming's law firm, Sharp & Barnes, to provide expert advice because he specialised in electronic commerce and served on a working group on Internet gambling issues when he was employed at the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration.
Wade said that Mr. Biden "worked on the House side to encourage introduction of a bill that would clarify that online gaming sites like those operated by PartyGaming would not have liability for operating prior to the passage" of the 2006 law. "End of story," he added.
The newspaper reports that Hunter Biden has been a partner at Oldaker, Biden & Belair, a law and lobbying firm, since 2001. He has mostly lobbied for biotechnology companies and for colleges seeking Congressional earmarks, which many critics consider a form of pork-barrel politics.
The youngest of the Senator Biden's two sons, he graduated from Yale Law School in 1996 and was hired later that year by the MBNA Corporation, the financial-services group then based in the Bidens' home state of Delaware, where he quickly rose to be a senior vice president at MBNA before joining the Clinton Administration's Commerce Department.
After he left the Commerce Department in 2001, he received a consulting contract to work on electronic commerce issues for MBNA. He went on to form a law and lobbying firm with William C. Oldaker, an experienced Washington insider who has been a campaign adviser to Senator Biden and other Democratic leaders.
Records show that Hunter Biden's clients have paid the firm more than $2.8 million in fees over the last several years.