Dodd bows out
Apolitical obituary for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who has announced that he won’t seek a sixth term, would have to note that for a man who was so often right about political issues, it’s remarkable that he could be so frequently wrong about his personal finances.
Dodd, 65, is one of several prominent Democratic politicians who have recently opted to retire, including Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. Most of those bowing out are centrists in traditionally conservative states where voter anger over healthcare reform and the federal stimulus program have produced a backlash against Democrats. That partly applies to Dodd, who as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a leader in healthcare negotiations was a key player in both initiatives. Yet what really seems to have attracted voters’ ire in liberal Connecticut is Dodd’s poor judgment, and possible breaches of ethics, on financial matters.
The biggest controversy -- though the one that concerns us the least -- involves a provision that he inserted into the stimulus bill last year capping the compensation of executives at companies receiving taxpayer money. At the behest of Obama administration officials, Dodd modified his amendment to exclude bonuses from contracts that were signed before passage of the legislation. That allowed financial services company American International Group to dole out $165 million in bonuses to executives in a division that had played a central role in the banking system’s collapse. Dodd became a focus for national outrage as a result, yet if he hadn’t modified the amendment, the bill probably would have been unconstitutional.
Far more troubling was Dodd’s relationship with mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, which appears to have given him a sweetheart deal on a pair of loans under a VIP program called “Friends of Angelo,” named for former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo. Though Dodd was cleared of wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee, he should have known better than to accept special terms from a company whose regulation he oversaw. And then there was Dodd’s cottage in Ireland. After buying a third of a 10-acre island property in partnership with businessman William Kessinger in 1994, he bought out Kessinger’s share in 2002 for a fraction of its worth, then underreported the value of the cottage on Senate disclosure forms. This failure to properly account for what looks very much like a gift from a wealthy acquaintance is similar to the shenanigans that ended the political career of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
We’re going to miss Dodd’s sensible approach to social and environmental issues. But we’re not going to miss the financial chicanery.