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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Which Side Are They On? Democrats (via Chris Dodd) Show Us

Portion below; whole thing here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/nyregion/20dodd.html?hp

Clarence Randolph, a 50-year-old dump truck driver from New Haven, has been out of work for two months.

He is not happy that financial firms bailed out by the government are paying bonuses to their executives. And he does not understand why one of his senators, Christopher Dodd, allowed it to happen.

“Why would he do it?” he said as he was about to enter the New Haven Free Public Library to search online for jobs. “Why are they going to take taxpayers’ money — my money — and give all these people bonuses? I think that’s terrible.”

Across Connecticut, anger is erupting against Mr. Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, whose stature in Washington once reflected the state’s beneficial ties with the financial industry. Now, he finds himself a symbol of the political establishment’s coziness with tainted corporations and a target of populist wrath over their excesses.

On Thursday, the senator sought to defuse the furor over the latest revelation, holding a conference call with reporters to explain how legislation meant to limit executive compensation was changed at the last minute. That change exempted bonuses protected by contracts, like those at American International Group, a big campaign contributor to Mr. Dodd that received billions in federal bailout money.

Mr. Dodd said that his staff revised the bill at the urging of Treasury officials, who he said were concerned that the compensation limits, which he had written in the original legislation, went too far and might invite lawsuits.

While he knew the language was being rewritten, the senator said he had no idea the revision would allow for the bonuses at A.I.G.

“Had I known at the time that there were any A.I.G. bonuses involved — that this was somehow going to assist in that matter — I would have rejected it completely,” he said.

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner came to Mr. Dodd’s defense, saying in an interview with CNN that his staff had raised concerns about whether the legislation limiting executive compensation “was vulnerable to legal challenge.”

The fierce reaction back in his home state, however, underscores the peril the usually politically invulnerable senator faces.

In dozens of interviews, residents said they were appalled by Mr. Dodd’s ties to financial firms and believed that he had damaged himself as he prepares to run for re-election next year.

Even some who have been steadfast supporters worry that after 28 years in the Senate, Mr. Dodd, 64, has been seduced by the power of Washington and grown distant from his constituents in this heavily Democratic state, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn.

“What he needs to do is try to get some jobs out here for people,” said Henry Ford, 44, a painter from New Haven. “There are a lot of people out here who have bought houses and can’t afford them.”

This week’s uproar was triggered largely by Mr. Dodd himself, when he provided conflicting answers about the provision that allowed the bonuses at A.I.G. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the company’s employees, political action committees and subsidiaries have made campaign contributions of nearly $300,000 to Mr. Dodd since 1989.

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