Sen. Kent Conrad said Saturday that after reviewing e-mails from Countrywide Financial Corp., he had learned that company officials had provided him with preferential treatment: a discount on one loan and a waiver of a company lending rule for another.
Although the favors were unsolicited, the North Dakota Democrat said he would donate $10,500 to charity to compensate for the unsolicited benefits he received.
Conde Nast’s Portfolio Magazine reported last week that Conrad and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) were part of a special VIP program at Countrywide that provided special terms and discounts to Hollywood luminaries, national politicians and friends of Countrywide executives.
Dodd chairs the Senate Banking Committee and Conrad sits on the Senate Finance Committee. Both panels consider matters of concern to Countrywide.
Both senators said Friday that they were not aware that they received special favors or that they were part of the “Friends of Angelo” program at Countrywide. The name refers to Angelo Mozilo, the company’s chief executive.
Conrad said he had a brief conversation with Mozilo when seeking his loan for a vacation property. The telephone call was arranged by Conrad’s longtime friend Jim Johnson, who recently resigned from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign because of questions over his own Countrywide loan discounts.
Dodd, who has been tough on Countrywide and other mortgage lenders in recent hearings, said he did not talk with Mozilo.
All of these prominent Democrats strongly deny any wrongdoing. On Friday, Conrad said that a review of rates he received for the loan suggested he had overpaid. But when he reviewed the e-mails provided by reporters and Countrywide officials, Conrad said he wanted to act aggressively because “I do not want to receive preferential treatment.”
The Countrywide loans are proving awkward because of a federal investigation of the mortgage lender, whose activities are at the center of the current problems in the housing market.
Dodd, one of four Senate Democrats who pursued his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, has been preparing for a Senate vote on legislation he wrote that would create a fund to insure $300 billion in mortgages to save an estimated 500,000 borrowers from foreclosure.
Lobbying disclosure reports show that in recent years Countrywide has been concerned about several pieces of legislation, mostly before the Banking Committee, but also some before the Finance Committee.
Dodd issued a two-paragraph statement last week saying that he never sought or expected special treatment when he and his wife refinanced their loans in 2003. “Just like millions of other Americans, we shopped around and received competitive rates.” Dodd has not provided more information.
Conrad, on the other hand, sat for lengthy interviews with reporters and provided documents related to his loans. On Saturday, Conrad’s press office issued a statement announcing that the senator had reviewed some of the internal Countrywide e-mails about his account. In reviewing details of his loans for a vacation house in Bethany Beach, Del., Conrad says he learned that Countrywide had waived one point on his mortgage.