MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
It was evidently a very sensitive issue for Barack Obama's staff when they vetted Joseph Biden to be his running mate. Would the Delaware senator run into criticism for his ties to the credit card company MBNA? The big Delaware-based company, which has since been bought by Bank of America, pioneered the Affinity Card. That's a credit card with your alma mater on it, or your favorite sports team, or your brand of car. Well, the question surrounding Joe Biden, was there an affinity between him and MBNA that went beyond friendship or constituent service?
Well, Jeffrey Birnbaum, the managing editor of digital news for the Washington Times, has looked into this and joins us from the Pepsi Center in Denver. Welcome to the program, Jeffrey.
Mr. JEFFREY BIRNBAUM (Managing Editor of Digital News, Washington Times): Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: And we should point out that just like Senator Biden, you are a scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: Yeah, well, I certainly am from Scranton. That's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: Okay. A big issue concerning Senator Biden and MBNA was his support of the bankruptcy, the rewrite of the bankruptcy laws. What happened?
Mr. BIRNBAUM: Well, Biden was one of the few Democrats who sided with credit card companies against consumer groups. The legislation we're talking about here went on for years in Congress, where the credit card companies were trying to make it difficult for consumers to declare bankruptcy and get out from under their credit card debt.
And so, consumer groups who often ally themselves with Democrats didn't like the idea of making bankruptcy more difficult. But Biden did side with MBNA and backed the credit card companies in their effort to try to make it harder for people to get out from under that credit card debt.
SIEGEL: We should say that Barack Obama voted against that bankruptcy law. An Obama spokesman, David Wade, addressed this. In a statement, he said that Biden took plenty of knocks from the largest employer in his state because he demanded changes in the bankruptcy bill. But legislating requires compromise. Senators cast tough votes. I should add, by the way, that Senator Bayh of Indiana also voted in favor of the bankruptcy law.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: Eventually, it did pass with some - with a good deal of Democratic support. But Biden did support this bill from the very beginning and took the credit card company's side.
SIEGEL: His son, Hunter Biden, formally Robert - middle name Hunter Biden, known as Hunter, worked for MBNA.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: That's right. He was an executive with the company, rising to the level of senior vice president at one point, then went to work for the Clinton administration for a couple of years or so, and then came out of the administration and worked as a consultant to MBNA for a reported about $100,000 a year. He never did lobby for that company, but did work for it for an extended period.
SIEGEL: I guess it's worth noting here that bank cards in Delaware are a little bit like - well, it's almost like oil and Texas or cars and Michigan, this is a big deal in the state of Delaware.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: Oh, there's no question about it. MBNA is one of the most important employers of the state. When people think of Delaware, they may think of toll booths on Route 95, or Du Pont, the important chemical company. They also think of credit cards, and they should, because it's a very important employer there.
SIEGEL: There's another dimension to the relationship between Senator Biden and MBNA. One of his opponents, when he ran for reelection, claim that when he sold his house to an MBNA executive, the price was padded effectively, but Biden produced an appraisal showing that what the house sold for was what the market said it could fetch. At the core of all this is campaign contributions. Biden received campaign contributions from people who work for MBNA.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: That's right. More than $200,000 over the years, about $241,000 by one count, making MBNA employees one of the largest - and for a time, the largest - contributor to Biden campaigns. And so the question arises, Robert, why did Joe Biden do this, especially on this very important bankruptcy bill, for MBNA? Did he do it for the campaign contributions? Did he do it to help out his son who worked for MBNA? Or did he do it for a very large and important constituent?
The answer from the Biden campaign is that he believed in this position and it makes perfect sense for him to support his constituent. And the notion of helping his son and doing it for the money is not such a good idea. But what this raises the issue of, I think, is whether he is as much an outsider to the Washington ways as the Obama campaign is trying to portray the Obama-Biden ticket. And I'm sure we'll hear a lot about that from the McCain campaign.
SIEGEL: Well, Jeffrey Birnbaum of the Washington Times, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. BIRNBAUM: Thank you, Robert.
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