This was not the first time a Biden-tied lobbyist had figured into James Biden’s personal finances. In an unrelated episode, he and Joe’s son, Hunter, took out loans worth seven figures from WashingtonFirst Bank to repay a business debt around 2006. The bank was co-founded by a lobbyist and Biden adviser who was also a lobbying partner of Hunter Biden’s for several years. A former executive at the bank previously told POLITICO that James and Hunter repaid that loan.
In September 2013, the Greens released the Water Island mortgage, saying they had “received full payment and full satisfaction,” according to property records.
From 2012 to 2018, according to Lafayette Group’s firm history, it received contracts tied to at least one government program championed by Biden: the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.
The network, which set aside broadband internet spectrum for first responders, was proposed following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve emergency communications in the event of disaster and endorsed by the 9/11 Commission.
Among the biggest proponents of creating the network was the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a police association that hired Green as a lobbyist in 2007 and was represented by Lafayette Group until Dec 6, 2019.
In the Senate, Biden supported setting aside broadband spectrum for the network both before and after Green registered to lobby for the police group, but the initiative encountered years of delays.
As vice president, Biden was the administration’s chief advocate for the creation of the network, making the public case for it and guiding legislation through Congress that reserved broadband spectrum for it.
“We owe you,” Biden told a group of police officers in Alexandria, Virginia, promoting the measure in September 2011. “We said we’d give you what you need, and we told the public they’d have what they needed to be protected.”
The creation of the network finally passed as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.
When the Department of Homeland Security set about launching the initiative, it contracted with Lafayette Group to persuade state authorities to participate in the network, according to the firm’s website. In total, Lafayette Group has received more than $10 million in contracts for work related to the network, now called FirstNet, according to government data.
Reached by phone, Lafayette Group’s current CEO, Green’s son Keil Green, asked a reporter to call him back the following day. He did not respond to follow-up communications.
Another lobbying client of Green’s, the non-profit Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, had benefited from Biden’s support over the course of more than two decades, both before and after Green’s land purchase.
The program, known as D.A.R.E. America, began in Los Angeles in 1983, and, helped by federal backing, grew along with the War on Drugs. D.A.R.E, which sent police officers into classrooms to warn against drug use, enjoyed bipartisan support and was eventually implemented in the vast majority of school districts in the United States.
After leaving Capitol Hill, Green signed up D.A.R.E. as a client in the early ’90s and lobbied his old boss on behalf of the program. Green made $40,000 a year in lobbying fees from the drug education program from 1999 to 2010, the years for which his lobbying disclosures are available online.
Biden ensured its inclusion in the 1994 Crime Bill, making it eligible to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.
“As you know, it’s a pretty popular program, so it wasn’t a question of not including it,” a Biden staffer told Reason magazine at the time.
D.A.R.E. was in fact popular with schools and police departments, but it was also controversial.
Research consistently showed it was ineffective at its stated purpose of curbing substance abuse. It also cost taxpayers money.
The 1995 Reason article cited an estimate from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy that the program was taking in about $40 million in federal funding annually, despite research showing it was ineffective.
Over the following years, the program faced mounting criticism from researchers and skeptics of the war on drugs as more studies piled up — from universities, the Surgeon General and the Government Accountability Office — concluding it was ineffective at preventing drug abuse.
Yet Biden’s support for the program continued through his time in the Senate.
In Biden’s final few years in the Senate, he continued to act as one of D.A.R.E’s top proponents in Congress, helping secure its funding, even as critical news coverage in The Columbus Dispatch and Harper’s Magazine noted the evidence of the program’s ineffectiveness and cited Biden’s relationship to Green as a possible reason for the senator’s support. After congressional reforms required legislators to attach their names to earmark requests, disclosures for the fiscal year 2008 budget show that Biden, along with Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa and the late Ted Stevens of Alaska, co-sponsored a $450,000 Senate earmark for Justice Department funding for D.A.R.E. The earmark died in conference.
A spokesman for Grassley, Michael Zona, said staffers who would be familiar with the details of the 2008 earmark have since left Grassley’s office, but he pointed out that Grassley and Biden had co-chaired the Senate Drug Caucus. “There’s nothing unusual at that time about a grant like this,” Zona said, “But I couldn’t speak specifically to this grant.”
In the years since the land deals, the U.S. Virgin Islands have been a favored destination for the Biden clan. In between election night 2008 and Barack Obama’s inauguration, Biden and his family traveled to Water Island over the winter holidays. As vice president, he returned to the island over the next two holiday seasons.
News coverage of Biden’s travel to the small island said he was visiting “family friends” but did not name them.
The undeveloped land owned by Green and his brother is abutted on one side by a nature conversancy and by Virgin Islands government land on the other.
One Water Island landowner, who asked not to be named discussing a sensitive subject, said the Bidens learned about the “forgotten little island” through family friends from Baltimore, but that those friends were not among the island’s hundred-odd residents. The landowner said the Bidens rented a house when visiting the island.
“I was amazed that the Bidens ever wanted to come down there,” she said, citing the logistical challenges of traveling to the remote island, which normally requires taking a boat from nearby St. Thomas. “I guess it’s where you want to go when you want to get away from the rat race of D.C., and supervision, and observation.”