Posted: Aug. 9, 2005


Joe's PAC

There were about 20 politicians who have run or may run for president with PACs to their name by June 30, the first mid-year reporting date for campaign activity since the country last voted for president, and U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was one of them.

Imagine -- already 20 politicians who believe in pie in the sky. No wonder Washington is the way it is.

PAC stands for "political action committee," but what it really means is "positively accepting checks." The money lets politicians travel, hire staff, conduct polling and research and spread goodwill by contributing to local candidates, preferably in strategically-placed states that hold early primaries or caucuses, all while pretending to pretend they have not decided to run for president.

The housing market has nothing on this presidential bubble. While it lasts, it is being tracked online by Political Money Line, a service that compiles campaign finance information on its Web site.

Some PACs have been around for years, like one set up by U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat, or another reconstituted by U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican. Others barely made it into the pack of PACs before the filing deadline, like the one started June 29 by Joe Biden, the Democratic entrant from Delaware.

They tend to come with clever names. Clinton has "Hill PAC," part personal and part Capitol Hill. McCain made his point with "Straight Talk America." Biden settled on "Unite Our States."

Biden's federal filing showed his PAC checking in with about $34,000, hardly enough even to be considered political pocket change, The serious fund raising began about a month later at a Washington-area reception for high-rollers at the home of Frank Loy, a former undersecretary of state in the Clinton administration, according to Roll Call, a newspaper that covers the Congress. No information is available yet on the amount Biden raised.

As Roll Call reported, Biden's PAC was going to do something that Biden-the-candidate has not done for about 20 years -- which is to take PAC money, contributions from labor unions, businesses, professional groups and other partisan interests with political action committees of their own.

Biden never swore off PAC money, which is not popular with voters. He was more like a dieter turning down hot fudge sundaes he knew were bad for him, knowing someday he might not be able to resist the temptation, especially  if others were indulging.

Besides, how sanctimonious would it be to shun PACs while he was running one?

More of the same

Another lawyer/politician has migrated to Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, a Wilmington law firm of choice for both Democrats and Republicans who like to practice politics along with their law -- or vice versa.

The addition is Stephanie L. Hansen, a Democrat who was elected New Castle County Council president in 1996 and picked up a Widener law degree during her four-year term there. She did not seek re-election.

Hansen joins a rank that stretches politically from Timothy J. Houseal, who does legal work for the Republican Party, to John T. Dorsey, who was the 1998 Democratic candidate for attorney general and also worked on Biden's staff. Matthew P. Denn, the Democratic insurance commissioner, wove in time at the firm before he was Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's legal counsel and afterwards when he was running for the office he won last year.

Hansen still takes her politics seriously. She chairs a Democratic representative district committee in lower New Castle County. Politics is also part of her home life. She is married to former County Councilman J. Christopher Roberts, a fellow Democrat whose career ended in a squeeze play in 2002. Roberts accomplished what would seem to be impossible -- simultaneously getting on the wrong side of mortal enemies, Thomas P. Gordon and Sherry L. Freebery, while they were running the county, and U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly.

Trained as an environmental scientist, Hansen joined Richards Layton & Finger in 2000 and gravitated to a land-use practice in brownfields, property that has to be cleaned of some sort of contamination to be redeveloped.

Richards is one of Wilmington's premier corporate firms with a number of top-notch practice areas, but land use is not one of them. When Hansen realized she was getting the projects that were conflicts or rejects from Young Conaway, she figured it was time to switch firms -- not to mention that Richards' initials of RLF are said wittily to stand for "Republican law firm."

"Now I'm not like the token Democrat," Hansen said.