A New Adventure

Art that doesn’t pass the smell test


In two columns from February 2020, I covered ways politicians and their family members get rich off their name and influence. And it’s all legal.

This is so common among senior-level politicians — of all political persuasions — that it is called “soft corruption.”

In 2020 I listed three ways to legally transfer money to a politician or family to gain access.

1) Employ a family member and pay them an excessive amount of money for work without any qualifications. This is what Joe Biden’s son, Hunter did when he reportedly was paid $3 million to sit on the board of a Ukrainian energy board while his dad was Vice President. 

Chelsea Clinton was employed by NBC News in 2011 — with no journalism experience — where she was reportedly paid $600,000 a year until 2014. NBC also hired Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of former President George W. Bush, as a special correspondent for the “Today” show in 2009. 

2) Start a charitable foundation. Companies wanting to buy influence can then donate vast sums of money to the foundation. This is what Bill and Hillary Clinton did. They listed their foundation as a charity for tax write-off purposes and used the money from the foundation to pay for travel expenses and employ family and friends. All legal.

3) Employ or pay family members as part of a political campaign. Bernie Sanders has been very good at this. He employed his wife Jane before they were married in his first elected position as mayor of Burlington Vt. The position was head of his administration’s Youth Office. Originally an unpaid position, it quickly became paid over the objections of the city council. And of course, the job was never posted, allowing others to apply.

Since Sanders was elected to Congress, Jane has held various positions such as chief of staff, press secretary and political analyst. 

Joe Biden knows this trick. In 2001, according to Newsweek, as a presidential candidate, Biden paid his son Hunter’s law firm, Oldaker Biden & Belair, $143,000 for legal services.

Leave it to the Biden family to find another way to make money — painting. I’m not talking about being paid to paint someone’s home. 

This is art. 

The First Son, Hunter Biden, made it back in the news last week when it was discovered that he is an artist. His first solo exhibition is scheduled to open in October with 15 paintings.

According to New York gallery owner Georges Berges — who discovered Hunter — prices will range from $75,000 for works on paper to $500,000 for the larger canvases.

Buyers who purchase pieces from this show are promised anonymity — a common practice in the art world. Can anyone say dark money?

This is the perfect opportunity for a foreign government or drug cartel to gain access to the president.

A year ago, an investigative report by the U.S. Senate detailed how Russian oligarchs use the art world to launder money. “Secrecy, anonymity and a lack of regulation create an environment ripe for laundering money and evading sanctions,” the report stated.

A company trying to land a contract with the federal government, worth up to $1 billion, could use this opportunity to obtain an edge over the competition. The painting would hang in the board room and the expense used as a tax write-off.

In a June 21 report on Fox News, Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government Ethics director under President Barack Obama, said that the lucrative arrangement has a “shameful and grifty feeling to it.”

“The notion of a president’s son capitalizing on that relationship by selling art at obviously inflated prices and keeping the public in the dark about who’s funneling money to him has a shameful and grifty feel to it.”

In other words, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

I guess President Biden forgot about his promise on the campaign trail (December 2019) when he said he would not let his family cash in on his name if he were elected president.

For comparison, Hunter’s art will be selling for more than a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat — regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century — which sold for $20,900 in 1984, or $53,771 after adjusting for inflation.

If Hunter is such a gifted artist, he could at least wait until his father is no longer president to sell his “masterpieces.”

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