Mon 30 Mar 2009 08:12
Categories: All Posts , Same Shit--Different Day , Stupidity Should Be Painful
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By KEVIN RENNIE
IT’S been a rotten year for Chris Dodd. Time and again, the Connecticut senator has been caught both doing favors for heavy hitters and receiving them — and then lying about it.
Sometimes the mess involves a firm like AIG or Countrywide, enmeshed in the abuses that have so damaged the US economy. Sometimes Dodd’s pal is just a felon in need of a presidential pardon. But the cavalcade of scandal clearly puts the five-term senator in danger of losing his next re-election bid.
Dodd’s collapse began last June, when Conde Nast Portfolio revealed that he had gotten two cut-rate mortgages of nearly $800,000 from subprime giant Countrywide Financial in 2003. As the magazine reported, Dodd was a "Friend of Angelo" — one of several notables marked for special treatment by Countrywide co-founder Angelo Mozilo.
That triggered a dizzying carnival of misleading Dodd statements. First, he issued an angry written statement denying any favorable treatment.
A few days later, he told some reporters that he knew he’d been treated as a VIP by Countrywide, while the same day assuring other reporters that he hadn’t.
He also promised he would release documents related to his mortgages. It took more than seven months for him to produce anything, and he still hasn’t disclosed all the paperwork. On Feb. 2, he let some Connecticut reporters look at some papers — but allowed no copies to be made and refused to list the documents provided.
Dodd has promised to refinance the Countrywide deals, which would save him at least $70,000 over the life of the mortgages. But this is plainly damage control, not remorse.
There’s no question why Countrywide wanted Dodd’s friendship. Dodd has long been a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the industry. In 2003, at the time of the first sweetheart loan, he was close to becoming chairman — and a big catch for a company that depended on government policies that encouraged lending over prudence.
Nor is this the only sweetheart deal to surface:
* He bought a Washington, DC, condo in 1986 with New York bon vivant Edward Downe Jr. Dodd lived in the unit; Downe paid half the mortgage, fees and taxes — but rarely used the apartment. The subsidy ended in 1990 as federal authorities closed in on Downe’s lucrative off-shore insider-trading scheme.
* In 1994, Dodd bought a waterfront home on 10 acres in County Galway, Ireland. Actually, he got a 1/3 interest: Buying the rest was William "Bucky" Kessinger, Kansas City, Mo. real-estate developer (and also a college classmate and longtime business partner of Downe, who by then had been convicted.
The total purchase price was $160,000; eight years later, Dodd bought out Kessinger for only $122,351. He says he also paid the balance of the outstanding mortgage — but other records suggest that couldn’t have been much, so Dodd still realized a substantial profit on the deal.
Dodd claims that price was based on an independent appraisal. If so, he owned the only piece of property in Ireland that was nearly untouched by the biggest boom in Europe.
Dodd’s Irish real-estate bonanza, likely worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars in 2002, came the year after he obtained a full presidential pardon for his and Kessinger’s pal Downe. Circumventing the usual vetting process for pardons, Dodd had made his plea directly to President Bill Clinton. Downe still owed millions to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The latest Dodd disaster, of course, involves those AIG bonuses. In February, Dodd inserted an amendment into the stimulus bill ensuring that executives of firms bailed out by the government could still collect already-contracted bonuses. When that became so controversial this month, Dodd at first denied doing the dirty work — then admitted it, but tried to blame the Obama administration.
Even voters who might believe that story will also note that AIG had donated more to Dodd than to any other American politician. And now it turns out that his wife served for three years (2001-2004) on the board of a Bermuda-based company in the AIG constellation.
Polls show Dodd, long unassailable as a Democrat in Connecticut, in a close race with ex-Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Stonington). But his real danger comes from outside Connecticut. Jay Leno no longer needs much setup to skewer Dodd in his monologue. The California audience gets it, and the Connecticut one does, too.