Posted: July 23, 2009
THE CURIOUS CASE OF CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
By Celia Cohen
Baghdad was no barrier. Active duty was no deterrent. Money just wants to be in Beau Biden's campaign account.
It was like zombies. Check after check after check -- almost 200 of them, most of them for the legal maximum of $1,200 -- marching in lockstep until there was upwards of $160,000 jamming into the treasury by the end of 2008.
All but a handful of the contributions arrived in the last quarter of the year, while Biden was removed from Delaware and his post as the Democratic attorney general for a tour with his National Guard unit in Iraq. He left last October, not to be stateside again until late September or early this October.
Forget the Midas touch. This is better. Something like a Biden mind meld.
Biden is up for re-election in 2010. His party has all but unfurled the red carpet if he would prefer the nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, the one left behind by the vice president but stored within the Biden galaxy by Ted Kaufman, a trusted adviser to both Joe-the-father and Beau-the-son.
An incumbent attorney general can collect campaign contributions. So can a Senate candidate. Not an Army captain. As National Guard General Frank Vavala noted, "As a military officer, you can't be involved in overt political campaigning."
Somehow the money still saluted and showed up.
It had to. Whatever Beau Biden does, it will be expensive. Certainly more than $5,399 -- which is what his 2008 campaign finance report showed he had at the beginning of the year. Political consultants would charge more than that for a Student Council race.
It did no good to ask around Democratic circles or the Biden camp to inquire how the contributions came in. People put on their best I-know-nothing expressions.
Then Bart Dalton materialized one day, as mysteriously as the money. Dalton is a lawyer, a Democrat who was the chief deputy for Attorney General Charlie Oberly in the 1980s. If there were questions about Biden's fund raising, he said, he was the guy to take them. Take them, not necessarily answer them.
Q: Where did the money come from?
A: "There's an informal, small group of Beau supporters who like him, not only for what he does in government but personally. A bunch of us made some phone calls. We thought it would be a good thing to do, and he can't do it for himself. Beau's overseas. Like a good soldier, he's following orders. He couldn't be involved."
Q: There was no communication with Biden?
A: "Hand on the Bible, none."
Q: Who else was in the group?
A: "I'm not comfortable talking about other members."
Q: Are the contributions for attorney general or the Senate?
A: "We were raising money for his next race. We don't know what he's going to do. I think he'd made a great senator, but that's just Bart Dalton talking."
Or not talking. Where there is Bart Dalton, there is probably Charlie Oberly, and there was. Oberly acknowledged he was part of the group, but otherwise, he had no more to say than Dalton did.
By the time Biden returns home, the election will be about 13 months away, demanding he solidify his plans soon. Not that the Republicans have bothered to capitalize on his absence to set up their own ballot, however.
The Republicans do not have anyone committed to the race for attorney general. Congressman Mike Castle, their first choice for the Senate, is still dithering over his decision.
"I could make it tomorrow morning. I could make it in a month," Castle said.
Whatever happens, hostilities have not broken out yet between Castle and the Biden camp. Peace was at hand as Castle and Kaufman joined Tom Carper, the other Democratic senator, for a press conference Monday at the University of Delaware to announce federal grants.
Castle and Kaufman sat together. Kaufman introduced Castle as "a man who has more experience and done more things -- governor, lieutenant governor, state senator -- than anyone I know, and that is our congressman, our really great congressman, Mike Castle."
Castle, by the way, is sitting on $861,000 in his campaign account. It is considerably more than Biden's stash, although it is regarded scornfully in Washington as pocket change if he wants to wage a Senate race against a Biden.
"I haven't made any effort to raise money at all," Castle said.
The race would cost millions and millions and millions. It would look like bailout money for banks. Saints will have nothing on the money that comes marching in.