The son of Barack Obama's vice presidential pick, Sen. Joe Biden, is a top partner at a Washington law firm that has lobbied his father's office, a family tie that could prove embarrassing for a campaign that has positioned itself as fighting lobbyists and special interests in Washington.
In the first six months of this year R. Hunter Biden, a founding partner of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, has worked on accounts that brought it $470,000 from nine clients, according to lobbying disclosure records.
Although firm members say Biden, 38, does not lobby his father, this kind of family tie, said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, "raises the potential of a conflict of interest."
For its part, the Obama campaign said that Sen. Biden had always followed ethics rules. "Hunter Biden has never lobbied Sen. Biden's office or committees, period," David Wade, Obama-Biden spokesperson, wrote in an email response.
"He's never worked on a client issue where other members of the firm have lobbied the office. Hunter shares expenses not revenues with his partners, so there's no benefit to him when a partner lobbies. Sen. Biden has been as strong a supporter of ethics reform as the Senate has known, and his office follows all ethics laws right down to the letter."
But the connections between the law firm and Biden are very close.
For instance, William Oldaker, another named partner and former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, has been Sen. Biden's campaign treasurer for Congress.
Oldaker has advised Biden on campaign issues, first during the Senator's failed 1988 presidential bid. And while Oldaker has said he does not lobby Biden personally, he has spoken with Biden's staff about some clients.
One example was the University of Delaware, which Oldaker approached in 2002, shortly after founding the firm with Hunter Biden and Robert Belair. Since then, the university has paid Oldaker's firm $1.5 million.
The payoff: as of 2006, $24.8 million in earmarks for defense research, a student-exchange program, and a drug-and-alcohol-studies program.
Biden's then chief-of-staff, Alan Hoffman told Legal Times in 2006, "We help University of Delaware the way we would help a whole other host of institutions in Delaware."
Oldaker did not return a phone call to his home.
Belair, the firm's other named partner, said he has never personally lobbied Sen. Biden, but has on occasion spoken with Biden's staff for a client with issues before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose membership includes Biden.
Belair said he does not think there is any conflict of interest because he has worked for this client, SEARCH Group, a law enforcement research organization, for decades – long before he ever met or began working with Hunter Biden.
Belair said the firm has no formal policy banning Hunter from lobbying his father but said, "I think in all the years since we've put the firm together I'm unaware of Hunter ever, ever lobbying his dad or that office. I don't think that happened. I never asked him to. I never would ask him and I think he would refuse."
Oldaker and Hunter Biden first formed a firm in 1999. In 2002, they founded what is now known as Oldaker, Biden & Belair, located just blocks from the White House.
Since 2003, Hunter Biden has been registered to lobby for an array of small universities, hospitals, and drug research companies seeking earmarks and other appropriations. Those clients have paid his firm a total of $3.8 million, jumping from $20,000 in 2003 to $1.6 million in 2007, according to lobbying disclosure records.
This year Hunter Biden has lobbied for drug research companies Achaogen and Pulmatrix, Sharp & Barnes on internet gambling, and six universities, Regis University, St. Joseph's University, St. Xavier University, University of Detroit Mercy, Xavier University, and University of Scranton which is located in his father's hometown.
Hunter served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps following graduation and has worked as a presidential appointee in the Department of Commerce, according to his online firm bio. He was also confirmed by the senate as a member of the Amtrak Reform Board in 2006.