I was inadvertently left off the list of pundits encouraged to submit questions for today’s Democratic debate. Oh well. Mine all would have been for Tulsi Gabbard anyway, and unfortunately she didn’t make “the cut.” But in the spirit of open inquiry, I put together some queries directed at the frontrunner, Joe Biden.
Q: Joe, how’s the asthma?
The reason why I’m asking is you received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War draft, the same number as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney. And in 1968, when your student status was wrapping up, you were medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma as a teenager.
In your autobiography, you described your active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. You also lied (note: Biden lies are usually called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. Was all that hard with asthma? Were you diagnosed for asthma in 1968 by a podiatrist? Your vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no.
Let me read you a quote, Joe. “You have somebody who thinks it’s all right to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Your fellow presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg said that about President “Bone Spurs” Trump. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq, called Trump a “coward.” Do you agree with those comments?
Q: Joe, can you explain your recent financial success?
In 2008, you earned a $165,200 salary as a senator, supplemented by $20,500 as an adjunct professor at Widener University Law School. You got an advance of $112,500 for your book Promises to Keep. Your wife Jill taught at a community college while you were vice president. You two reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016, your last year in the Obama administration.
Then, after leaving the Obama White House, you and Jill made more than $15 million, mostly via a new book deal. In fact, you and your wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as you did in the previous 19 years combined.
Now, we know about inflation and everything, but you were given $10 million for your 2017 memoir, Promise Me, Dad, roughly 10 times what your first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters, in 2018, by the same publisher as you.
We all know how publishing works: the publisher, Flatiron, pays you, the author, an advance. Profits from book sales are subtracted from that advance. For a publisher to be successful, they need to sell more than they paid out for the advance, and because of this, successful publishers like Flatiron get pretty good at estimating those numbers. Forbes reports that your new book sold 300,000 copies against that $10 million, meaning you, Joe, took home about $33 per copy on a book Amazon is selling for only $13.99. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but off the cuff do you feel that pocketing $33 on a $13.99 sale was a good deal for you?
And speaking of which, a friend passes along her respect. Hillary Clinton only earned around $5 million from her campaign book.
Your teaching pay went up nicely as well. You got $20,500 for teaching when you entered the White House. After you left office, the University of Pennsylvania gave you $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer you indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching anything while you campaign. And you got signed for that gig only a month after leaving the White House. Side question: did you post your résumé on Monster or Indeed.com?
What role do you think your being the likely nominee played in how much you were paid? It’s almost as if people are giving you money to be your friend. Is there a definition of corruption that might encompass that?
Another friend sends his respect, too, Joe. He’s jealous almost no one talks about how you charge the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on your property so they can protect you! He wants to ask if you jokingly call the cottage “Biden Tower.”
Q: The cost of higher education is a major 2020 campaign issue. How much have you contributed to raising the price? No, no, sorry, that’s not fair. Joe, can you name a speaker you think is worth $180,000?
The reason I ask is because Education Next calls you the “Higher Education Millionaire” based on the fees you and your wife collected from various schools. Those include Drew University, $190,000; Lake Michigan College, $182,679; Vanderbilt University, $180,000; University of Buffalo, $179,489; Southern Connecticut State University, $124,515; Long Island University, $100,000; and Brown University, $92,642. Jill spoke at Foothill-De Anza Community College District, $66,400; Stanford University, $37,853; and Loyola University of Chicago, $36,000. Jill had other speaking engagements and gigs as well, for a total income of $560,000. There’s a full accounting here.
And hey, Joe, did you know that your 30-minute speech at the University of Buffalo was partially funded by “voluntary” student government ticket purchases? Anyway, at a total cost to the school of $230,000, that works out to about $7,600 a minute for your time in Buffalo. By comparison, a high-class escort there runs, albeit at a one-hour minimum, about $400 (link NSFW).
Overall you are quite a talker, Joe. Since leaving office, you’ve made $1.8 million on book tour events and $2.4 million over 19 speaking engagements.
Actually you were paid a lot more for your speaking than those disclosed fees would have us believe. Your gassing at the University of Buffalo, for example, included $10,000 for travel expenses. Your speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses. Do you order a lot of room service? Or are you padding your speaking fees with exaggerated travel expenses that you do not have to claim as income for tax purposes?
Now we all remember Old Man Bernie chastising Candidate Clinton in 2016 for the large sums of money she received for private speaking engagements. Some called that “pay to play,” powerful organizations, donors, and lobbyists paying jumbo fees to a candidate for a speech in lieu of simply bribing them directly by handing cash over in a paper bag. Can you explain how what you and Jill are doing is different?
Q: Joe, do you remember the tax loophole you and Obama tried to close, called the “S Corporation”? Since leaving office, you and your wife have laundered money through S Corps to save millions in taxes ordinary Americans have to pay. Why the change of heart, Joe?
In 2012, you said paying higher taxes on higher incomes was patriotic. You told us, “We’re not supposed to have a system with one set of rules for the wealthy and one set of rules for everyone else.” Along those lines, you and Obama sought to end a well-known dodge, the use of S Corporations to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.
You’ll remember, Joe: by creating a paper S Corporation, an individual receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits, as well as benefits from other tax rules that favor companies over individual earners.
So Joe, it seems that after trying to close that S Corp loophole while in the White House, you and Jill are now fans. In fact, your lucrative deals were funneled to you through two S Corps—CelticCapri for Joe and Giacoppa for Jill. Your S Corp is registered at 1201 North Orange in Wilmington, Delaware. That’s a popular block; right nearby is 1209 North Orange, the legal address of 285,000 separate businesses. Delaware, in fact, is ground zero for corporate tax shell companies. Michael Cohen had his there for Trump’s use as well.
Delaware has more (paper) corporate entities than people. And Joe, you were one of Delaware’s senators for decades. So you knew how things worked when you established your his-and-her S Corps only days after leaving the White House. As a corporate entity, S Corps can also make political contributions. Joe, your own S Corp did so, neatly donating money to your own political PAC, American Possibilities.
So Joe, the question is: is everything regarding your taxes a load of malarkey?
Q: Final question, because I know you’re getting tired. How do you intend to debate Trump when corruption, tax fudging, and skipping out on military service come up?
Are you just going to rely on the mainstream media not to ask about those things? Or are you going to go with Trump’s sleaze is worse than yours and you’re the lesser of two evils candidate because that worked out so well as a strategy in 2016?
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99%.