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Biden-linked groups pose ethical dilemma for his administration

The Biden Institute is part of a small network of charities and academic centers named after Biden, which he helped start after stepping down four years ago to promote causes he worked on. for more than four decades in Washington. Several of them also employed his former collaborators.

Two of the groups – the Biden Foundation and the Biden Cancer Initiative – were shut down in 2019 after Biden announced he would run for president. But the Biden Institute and the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania remain active, as does the Beau Biden Child Protection Foundation, which was established after the death of his son Beau Biden in 2015, while Biden was still vice-president.

The Beau Biden Foundation will begin making its major donors public for the first time on Wednesday, when Biden is sworn in.

The Penn Biden Center does not fundraise. The University of Pennsylvania uses general funds to operate the center and has no plans to solicit money for it in the future, according to a spokesperson for the university.

A Biden transition official said the new administration was taking steps to prevent any real or perceived conflicts of interest “or ethically compromising positions.”

“The administration will adhere to high ethical standards and ensure that any affiliation with outside groups will not result in special access or treatment,” the official wrote in an email to POLITICO.

But some ethics experts say the president and members of his immediate family should sever ties with the Biden Institute and the Beau Biden Foundation if they plan to continue raising funds.

“They should at least disclose their donors, and I think the Biden family should at least remove their name if they want to continue fundraising,” said Richard Painter, President George W’s chief ethics counselor. The Bush White House.

Meredith McGehee, the executive director of Issue One, a Washington group that promotes political reform, said she would like to see groups disclose all donors dating back five years.

“It’s clear that when you’re president you have to break all ties,” she says.

The painter also urged Hunter Biden to step down from his role as co-chair of the Beau Biden Foundation, noting that he encouraged Chelsea Clinton in 2016 to sever ties with the Clinton Foundation if her mother was elected president. (Biden’s daughter, Ashley Biden, recently resigned from the board.)

“I just don’t think it’s worth it,” he says. “Why compromise the presidency? Why create a problem for the right-wing media? “

Other members of Biden’s immediate family are also still involved in the groups. Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, remains a paid consultant to the Biden Institute, and Beau Biden’s widow, Hallie Biden, is co-chair of the board of directors of the Beau Biden Foundation.

University of Delaware launched a campaign in 2017 with Biden Owens in an effort to raise $ 20 million for the Biden Institute. The university has yet to meet its target and expects fundraising to continue “for years to come,” according to Peter Bothum, a spokesperson for the university.

When asked if the university plans to go public with its donors, Bothum said the university disclosed all donors who gave more than $ 100,000.

“Anything that is intended for the institute would be part of it, because it is part of the university,” Bothum said in a statement. “We are reviewing our policies regarding gifts regarding the Biden Institute and the Biden School of Public Policy to comply with federal guidelines while Joe Biden is president.”

The Beau Biden Foundation said in a statement that it will “continue its mission” once Biden takes office “but with strict security barriers around fundraising, including focusing on low fundraising. dollar and using existing donors to continue their support. Foundations will begin disclosing the names of donors who have donated at least $ 2,500 on Wednesday.

In an interview, Patricia Dailey Lewis, a former Delaware Deputy Attorney General who is now the foundation’s executive director, said she does not take money from lobbyists or foreign interests and only accepts contributions donors approved by the foundation. “My fault would be if you have business before the federal government, we wouldn’t take the money,” she said.

Boeing wrote the foundation a check in its early days, Dailey Lewis said, but it stopped accepting money from the company after two of the company’s 737 MAX jets were grounded in 2019 following two fatal accidents, triggering federal inquiries.

“I’m sure many organizations will want to send us checks now,” she said. “We’re just going to refuse them.”

Unlike other recent presidents, Biden takes office after having already put in place much of the infrastructure associated with a post-presidency. The Biden Foundation, for example, originally planned to build a vice-presidential library, but abandoned those designs once Donald Trump was elected, given the possibility that Biden could challenge him.

None of the groups Biden helped create after leaving office ever came close to the size of the Clinton Foundation, which President Bill Clinton established in 1997 to raise funds for his presidential library and later became the center. of a $ 2 billion philanthropic colossus.

The Clinton Foundation fundraiser, which included millions of dollars in contributions from foreign donors such as the Saudi government and the Abu Dhabi Royal Family, drew attention when Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008 and again in 2016 (The Clinton Foundation has agreed to make its donors public in 2008, after President-elect Barack Obama chose Clinton as Secretary of State.)

The Biden Foundation, meanwhile, raised around $ 3.3 million in 2018, its last full year of operation. The Beau Biden Foundation raised less than $ 1 million in the same year. The Biden Cancer Initiative raised about $ 4.8 million over two years.

Biden’s nonprofits also set ground rules that the Clinton Foundation does not have. Groups did not accept foreign contributions and the Biden Cancer Initiative did not take money from drug companies, a Biden spokesperson told the New York Times in the months leading up to the launch of its campaign.

Several university centers that have been affiliated with sitting Senators also go public with their donors, including the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell helped start three decades ago. , and the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University, which the late Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.) helped set up in 2012 while he was still in office. Among the McCain Institute donors was the Saudi government, which donated $ 1 million in 2014.

Norm Eisen, who was Obama’s senior ethics lawyer, said he didn’t think the Biden groups were comparable to the Clinton Foundation. “They are worthy but relatively modest entities in academia and nonprofit” compared to the Clintons monster, he said.

But Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen who is an expert on government ethics, said Biden should encourage groups bearing his name to go public with their donors “otherwise he’s going to be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as Clinton.”

One of the legacies of the groups Biden helped set up has served as a landing place for many of his allies and former collaborators.

At least 28 people working on the transition or entering the Biden administration – including many of the new senior White House executives – have ties to one of the groups Biden set up after leaving office or with the Beau Biden Foundation.

Tony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, worked as a managing director at the Penn Biden Center and was paid nearly $ 80,000 in the first six months of 2019, according to his personal financial information.

Other Penn Biden Center alumni joining the administration include Steve Ricchetti, who will be Biden’s White House adviser; Brian McKeon, Biden’s choice for a senior position at the State Department; Colin Kahl, Biden’s choice for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; Jeff Prescott, whom Biden will appoint as deputy ambassador to the United Nations; and Carlyn Reichel, Juan Gonzalez and Ariana Berengaut, all of whom will be on the staff of the National Security Council.

Ted Kaufman, who is leading the transition, chaired the Biden Foundation, and Louisa Terrell, who will be Biden’s director of legislative affairs in the White House, earned a salary of more than $ 220,000 as executive director, according to a file. tax.

Ben Harris, who Bloomberg News reported this week, he would join the administration as the Treasury Department’s senior aide, earning more than $ 150,000 in 2018 as a consultant to the Biden Foundation. Another foundation consultant, Anthony Bernal, who received more than $ 100,000 in 2018, will serve as a senior advisor to Jill Biden in the White House.

Jeff Zients, who leads Biden’s Covid response efforts, was a board member of the Biden Cancer Initiative.

Mike Donilon, who will be one of Biden’s top White House advisers, worked as chief executive of the Biden Institute before going on leave last spring.

And at least four members of the Biden Institute’s political advisory board are set to step into administration: Bruce Reed, who will be the White House’s deputy chief of staff; Heather Boushey, who will be a member of the Council of Economic Advisers; Vivek Murthy, Biden’s choice for general surgeon; and Don Graves, his choice for Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Sally Yates and Sarah Bianchi, who both advised on the transition, were also on the board.

Reed, Boushey, Murthy and Graves are stepping down from the board now that they are joining the administration, the University of Delaware has said.

Other than Bianchi, none of the board members were paid by the institute, and serving on it apparently did not require a great time commitment.

Two board members said they remembered only attending one meeting in person. One said two or three more meetings were held by phone, the latest in 2019.

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