IT'S not easy being a US senator. People trick you into taking
special favors you didn't even know existed. Shame on these
Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and North
Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, both Democrats, fell victim to the
machinations of Countrywide Financial, which gave them breaks on
mortgages as part of the "Friends of Angelo" program - the "Angelo" in
question being Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.
victims of Countrywide were gulled into taking loans with onerous
interest rates and excessive fees. But they don't know the agony of
life as a US senator - when at any moment a powerful, well-heeled
interest might take advantage of you with cut-rate loans.
Consider Conrad's plight: When it was revealed that he got special
deals from Countrywide, his rejoinder was that he'd never met Mozilo.
Later, Conrad admitted they had talked on the phone. As he recounts in
a letter to The Wall Street Journal, Conrad "called a close friend of
mine who knew a lot about mortgages for advice. My friend happened to
be with the head of Countrywide Financial when I called and put him on
What an unfortunate coincidence: An innocent loan
inquiry, and Sen. Conrad gets put on the phone with a CEO with myriad
high-stakes interests before Congress.
Most people asking
about their mortgages don't get put through to the CEO, but they don't
live with the burdens of senatordom. And Conrad was particularly
vulnerable - because, apparently a financial naif, he's only chairman
of the Senate Budget Committee, which sets the parameters for the $3
trillion federal budget.
Countrywide waived a one-point fee
for Conrad on a 2004 loan and financed his purchase of an eight-unit
apartment building even though the company usually didn't finance the
purchase of buildings with more than four units.
unbeknownst to him, Conrad had been maneuvered into saving more than
$10,000: "I did not think for one moment - and no one ever suggested to
me - that I was getting preferential treatment." Dastardly Countrywide
had given it to him anyway.
No wonder Democrats have condemned
Countrywide so loudly (Sen. Chuck Schumer: "a vulture mentality." Sen.
Barack Obama: "These executives crossed the line").
got off easy, considering the misfortune of his colleague Dodd: The
Connecticut senator has been saddled with favors that may save him as
much as $75,000 on his mortgages.
Dodd says he knew he was part of a VIP program, but figured it was nothing unusual - who in the Senate is not "very important"?
Dodd can be forgiven his lack of curiosity - he's very busy as chairman
of the Senate Banking Committee and can't be bothered with questions of
who might be trying to influence him with which particular favors.
To his credit, Dodd holds no grudges. Even though Countrywide so badly
served him by shaving points off his loans, he is honchoing a $300
billion mortgage-bailout bill that will benefit Countrywide by letting
it unload its worst loans onto the federal government.
When duty calls, Chris Dodd answers.
Bank of America is on the verge of buying Countrywide, and an internal
Bank of America "discussion document" from a few months ago happens to
coincide with the bailout provisions of Dodd's bill.
Washington Examiner reports that Bank of America's PAC has given Dodd
$20,000 since he became chairman of the Banking Committee last year,
and Bank of America employees have given him $50,000. This can only be
described as a string of very bad luck for Dodd, who - given his
selfless gullibility - probably figures everyone is showered with
donations from the financial industry.
Times are tough out
there. Gas prices are high, and the housing market has yet to hit
bottom. But keep in mind Sens. Conrad and Dodd, and remember it could
be much worse: You could be a US senator.