Sen. Christopher Dodd (D)
Elected: 1980, term expires 2010, 5th term.
Born: May 27, 1944, Willimantic .
Home: East Haddam.
Education: Providence Col., B.A. 1966, U. of Louisville, J.D. 1972.
Family: Married (Jackie Clegg); 2 children.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1969–75.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1974–80.
Professional Career: Peace Corps, Dominican Republic, 1966–68; Practicing atty., 1972–74.
The senior senator from Connecticut is Democrat Christopher Dodd, a savvy legislative and political tactician for his party. However, Dodd plans to conclude his 30-year career in the Senate in early 2010, when his current term expires. He announced on January 6, 2009 that he will retire rather than conduct what was shaping up to be a difficult campaign for re-election. Dodd had been heavily damaged politically over the preceding two years by a combination of forces, mostly of his own making. His decision to move his family to Iowa during a quixotic campaign for president in 2008 grated with Connecticut voters. (He wound up finishing sixth in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses and dropping out of the race.) Dodd was also hurt by revelations of sweetheart loans from a mortgage company and by his role in weakening a provision in a bill that might have prevented big bonuses to insurance executives who had a hand in the financial failure of American International Group. In remarks announcing his retirement, Dodd said, “(I) found myself in the toughest political shape of my career.” Senior party strategists had been urging him to step aside to pave the way for popular Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to run for the seat.
|Christopher Dodd (D)||945,347||(66%)||($3,938,132)|
|Jack Orchulli (R)||457,749||(32%)||($1,462,401)|
|Christopher Dodd (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (65%), 1992 (59%), 1986 (65%), 1980 (56%), 1978 House (70%), 1976 House (65%), 1974 House (59%)
Ironically, Dodd will be stepping down at the height of his power in Washington. He helped steer to passage last year the overhaul of the nation’s health care system after the death of his best friend, Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who was chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Dodd is the chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, where he holds considerable sway over the ongoing reorganization of financial regulatory agencies.
Dodd was born into politics, one of five senators who are children of former senators. (The others are Lisa Murkowski, Mark Pryor, Evan Bayh and Bob Bennett.) His father, Thomas Dodd, was a lead prosecutor for the post-World War II Nuremberg trials and was elected to the House in 1952. The elder Dodd lost a Senate race to Prescott Bush, George W. Bush’s grandfather, in 1956, then won a seat in 1958. Christopher Dodd graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island with a degree in English, and served from 1966-68 in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, where he learned to speak fluent Spanish. While he was overseas, the Senate censured his father for misuse of funds. Thomas Dodd ran as an independent in 1970, and his son, back from the Peace Corps, managed his campaign. The senior Dodd finished behind Republican Lowell Weicker and Democrat Joseph Duffey. (Bill Clinton, then a student at Yale Law School, was a volunteer on Duffey’s campaign.) Almost immediately after law school, Christopher Dodd ran for the House in the open-seat, eastern Connecticut 2nd District. In the Watergate year of 1974, he won comfortably, and he was easily re-elected in 1976 and 1978. In 1980, he outmaneuvered Toby Moffett, a fellow member of the House’s post-Watergate class, to get the Democratic nomination to succeed Democratic Sen. Abraham Ribicoff. He won by a wide margin and became the youngest senator ever elected in Connecticut. Recalling his father’s service, Dodd said, “Every time I walk on the Senate floor, I feel he’s vindicated.”
For many years, Dodd has built on his Peace Corps experience and his Spanish proficiency to play a major role in Congress on Latin American issues. On the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in the 1980s, he took the lead in opposing U.S. military aid to El Salvador’s government and the Nicaraguan Contras. He has long backed freer travel to Cuba and an end to the trade embargo. In contrast to his wariness of U.S. military aid to Central America in the 1980s, Dodd supported the Clinton administration’s Plan Colombia, to provide equipment and military training to Colombians fighting the FARC guerrillas. In 2002, he called for international cooperation to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but said that, lacking such cooperation, “I don’t think we have any choice but to act alone.” He voted for the Iraq war resolution in October of that year, but later said he had second thoughts. In 2004, he said of the Iraq war resolution: “There wouldn’t have been a vote if we knew then what we know now. Only the threat of weapons of mass destruction caused us to vote as we did.” In 2007, he sponsored a bill to prohibit increases in U.S. forces in Iraq without a vote by Congress, but the measure went nowhere. Citing his father’s experience at Nuremberg, Dodd has argued that the United States must uphold the rule of law against its enemies, and he sponsored a bill to give habeas corpus protection to anyone, including unlawful combatants, in U.S. custody. In September 2007, he published Letters From Nuremberg, excerpts from his father’s letters to his mother during the war-crimes trials. The younger Dodd wrote in the book, “For six decades, we learned the lessons of the Nuremberg men and women well. We didn’t start wars, we ended them. We didn’t commit torture, we condemned it. We didn’t turn away from the world, we embraced it. But that has changed in the past few years.”
For all of his work on foreign affairs in the early part of his Senate career, Dodd was best known for his colorful personal life. He had a reputation as a party boy and a partner-in-nightlife-crime of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was also then a regular on the Washington cocktail circuit. Dodd was married in 1970 and divorced in 1982, and he seemed to enjoy bachelorhood. In those days, he dated actress Carrie Fisher and Bianca Jagger, the ex-wife of Rolling Stones legend Mick Jagger. But in the 1990s, Dodd seemed to settle down to business in the Senate. He was one of the chief sponsors of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which for the first time entitled Americans to unpaid leave from their jobs to take care of children or elderly relatives. In 1999, he married Jackie Marie Clegg, an official with the Export-Import Bank. The couple has two daughters: Grace, born in 2001, and Christina, born in 2005.
In 1994, Dodd tried to leverage his legislative successes into a leadership role in the Senate. He campaigned among fellow Democrats for the post of minority leader, but lost to Tom Daschle of South Dakota by just 24-23. But Dodd got a place in the national spotlight anyway when President Clinton named him chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He performed ably against then-Republican Chairman Haley Barbour but was embarrassed in October 1996 when he followed White House orders to stonewall charges that a top DNC fundraiser, John Huang, had raised millions in illegal foreign contributions. Dodd left the chairmanship in January 1997.
In 2002, Dodd was the lead Democratic sponsor of the Senate terrorism insurance bill, which proposed to have the government pay for the first $10 billion of terrorism claims outright each year and then 90% of any following claims. The House version of the bill was far less generous to private insurers, providing full coverage of only the first $1 billion of damages and requiring insurers to repay the government. In lengthy negotiations, Dodd managed to get a compromise bill limiting the government’s obligation to pay claims to a sliding scale of percentages of premiums and placing a surcharge on all commercial insurance if companies’ claims exceeded a designated sliding scale. of limits. After the bitterly contested presidential election in 2000, Dodd, then chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, worked with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell on an elections procedure bill. The House and Senate versions of the measure differed significantly, and Dodd again had a part in crafting a compromise that set aside nearly $4 billion to help states upgrade their voting equipment.
Dodd gave some consideration to running for president in 2004, but in March 2003 he opted out and endorsed his home-state colleague, Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat. After Daschle was defeated for re-election in 2004, Dodd wanted to run for minority leader but bowed out when it became quickly apparent that Harry Reid of Nevada had the votes.
After Democrats won control of both houses of Congress, Dodd became chairman at the Banking Committee in January 2007. His record shows a generally skeptical view of government’s role on economic and regulatory issues: Connecticut, with its big insurance companies, has long been a creditor state that is leery of trial lawyers. Dodd co-sponsored the product-liability bill that Clinton vetoed in 1996, and he supported a 2005 bill to limit class-action lawsuits and require that many such suits be transferred to federal court. He also supported the 2005 bankruptcy bill that included favorable provisions for creditors. However, he criticized card issuers that year for “turning credit cards into nothing less than wallet-sized predatory loans,” and called for more disclosure, a ban on finance charges for on-time payments, and a study of fees that banks charge merchants. He also helped write the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which tightened controls on corporate accounting. But Dodd staunchly opposed federal regulation of hedge funds, many of which are headquartered in Greenwich. As Banking chairman, Dodd was sensitive to arguments that financial regulation could have enormous negative consequences. He said, “At the end of my tenure on this committee, I want it to be said that the safety and soundness of our financial institutions was not weakened on my watch.” Unfortunately for Dodd, that is precisely what happened in 2008, when risky practices in the finance and insurance markets contributed to a near total collapse of the finance services industry.
But in 2007, none of that was yet known, and Dodd had his eye on the promotion of a lifetime. He turned 63 that year and saw the 2008 election as arguably his last chance to run for president. Launching his campaign early, he missed many roll call votes but tried to stay on top of committee business, holding more than 30 hearings. His record was mixed, and the committee failed to act quickly on the unfolding crisis in the credit markets. In March 2007, Dodd accused the Federal Reserve Board and other regulators of causing the crisis in the subprime mortgage market through a “pattern of neglect.” The House passed a bill creating a new regulator for government-sponsored mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but Dodd did not get a bill to the Senate floor. The committee did act on flood insurance, student loans, and foreign ownership of U.S. companies, an issue sparked by the Dubai Ports controversy in 2006, but it passed no major housing or financial regulation legislation. As the crisis in home mortgages deepened, Dodd left the campaign trail in Iowa and blamed the housing crisis on unscrupulous lenders. He called for lifting the limits on Fannie’s and Freddie’s portfolios, but Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. rejected that proposal in September unless it was coupled with stricter regulation.
In October 2007, Dodd rented a house in Des Moines, Iowa, where he and his wife, Jackie, enrolled their daughter in kindergarten. He had 72 paid staff members in the state and campaigned full time there until the January 2008 caucuses. On January 3, Dodd finished sixth, with less than 1% of the national convention delegate equivalents, and he promptly ended his campaign. On February 26, he endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who had a run of victories that month.
Returning to Washington, Dodd dove into crafting a legislative response to the mortgage crisis. In July 2008, he won Senate passage of a sweeping bill aimed at helping homeowners and banks refinance troubled mortgages. It pumped into the market up to $300 billion in federally guarantees for mortgage loans and created a tougher regulator for Fannie and Freddie. Dodd worked with his House counterparts to resolve differences between the two chambers’ bills, and President Bush signed the legislation into law. Dodd said he was particularly proud of the provisions that provided mortgage holders direct aid to prevent foreclosures. In fall 2008, Dodd was again at the eye of the storm when Treasury Secretary Paulson asked Congress for $700 billion to buy up troubled mortgage-based securities and underwrite failing financial institutions as a way of trying to reopen the credit pipeline, which had virtually dried up as the economy worsened. Although the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, was stoutly opposed, Dodd supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that Congress passed in October 2008. Dodd’s committee took on an oversight role of the huge new government program.
The election of Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as vice president left Dodd with a choice of committee chairmanships in January 2009. He quickly decided to turn down the chance to take over the more glamorous Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to stay at Banking and continue his work on the financial crisis. In December 2008, he said that the government should not release the unallocated $350 billion of TARP funds until Treasury provided better oversight and a better foreclosure procedure. “They have spent the money … in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner,” Dodd complained. In late January 2009, he unveiled a plan for more-robust oversight and called for a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.
But his emerging image as populist hero of everyday Americans with mortgage problems was badly damaged in the wake of multiplying controversies. Dodd first came under attack in the media, including home-state newspaper The Hartford Courant, for accepting a deal on his own mortgages from Countrywide Financial, which had waived fees on mortgages of $506,000 for his Capitol Hill town house and $275,000 for his home in Connecticut. Dodd’s name was on an internal list kept by the company called “Friends of Angelo,” a reference to chief executive Angelo Mozilo. Dodd said, “I did not seek, nor was I aware of, nor did I at any time try to solicit” a special deal. He promised in June 2008 to release his mortgage documents, but didn’t. In early 2009, he allowed reporters to examine some documents in his office, and then in February, announced he was refinancing the properties. The Hartford Courant also reported that in 1994 Dodd bought a one-third share in a $160,000 house on the west coast of Ireland with a business associate of Edward Downe, who pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1992. (Back in January 2001, at Dodd’s request, Downe was pardoned by President Clinton.) Just as the imbroglio over his properties was dying down, Dodd was caught in another tempest. After an explosion of public anger over big bonuses paid to executives of insurance giant American International Group, which was being bailed out by taxpayers, Dodd was forced to admit that he had weakened a provision in the economic stimulus bill that would have banned such bonuses. Dodd said he did so at the insistence of the Obama administration, which he said was worried that AIG employees would sue to keep their bonuses.
Dodd had not had a serious challenge to his re-election in a long time, but the negative fallout from the controversies left him with job-approval ratings in Connecticut under 50%, making him vulnerable. In March 2009, former Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican who lost his seat by 83 votes in the Democratic sweep of 2006, said he would challenge Dodd in 2010. A poll that month showed Simmons and Dodd in a dead heat 43%-42%. “Senator Dodd has disappointed a lot of his supporters up here in Connecticut with his activities over the last several years,” Simmons said. In 2004, Dodd won 66%-32%, carrying all but five of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. In February 2007, he passed the mark of Republican Orville Platt to become the longest-serving Connecticut senator in history.