It's hard to deny that Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is in serious political trouble. With his 2010 re-election campaign looming, Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee since 2007, currently faces the lowest approval ratings of his career and two Republicans, Connecticut State Senator Sam Caligiuri and former Ambassador Tom Foley, have already declared their intentions to replace him. A poll released by Quinnipiac University on April 2 revealed that only 33 percent of Connecticut voters are satisfied with Dodd and, in both head-to-head match-ups, he would lose by over ten percentage points to his challengers.
Many Americans may cite Senator Dodd's involvement in last month's AIG bonus scandal as the primary reason for the 30 year incumbent's fall from grace in an overwhelmingly blue state. However, this incident merely exacerbated voter frustration during a year marked by Dodd's consistently questionable behavior.
Senator Dodd began his downward spiral in June of last year when he was accused of receiving a sweetheart deal on the refinancing of his homes in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. through Countrywide Financial. A former Countrywide loan officer alleged that Dodd was a member a VIP program for "friends" of Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo and had received preferential rates and other benefits on his refinancing.
Senator Dodd was a key proponent of encouraging Fannie May and Freddie Mac to assume subprime loans, pegged as "affordable housing," from corporations like Countrywide. However, in Countrywide's case, this "affordable housing" was, in truth, a predatory lending scheme that placed many Americans in homes they could not afford. Such policies caused September's subprime mortgage crisis and plunged the United States into a recession. For these reasons, Dodd's alleged sweetheart deal suggested he was endorsing damaging economic policies in return for personal favors.
Initially, the story received little attention as the national press focused on the much anticipated 2008 election and continued to peg Dodd as a potential vice presidential pick. But, during a time of economic uncertainty, Dodd's inconsistent response to the accusation quickly plunged him into disfavor with Connecticut voters. Senator Dodd originally said he had no idea that he was a VIP Countrywide customer, but a week later he admitted his VIP status. Countrywide execs insisted that VIPs were constantly reminded of their privileges. Despite this, Dodd said he was oblivious to any preferential treatment he may have received while refinancing. With his declaration of innocence, Dodd promised that he would release his mortgage documents for public view, at some point. As the months passed without answers, the economy worsened and so did Senator Dodd's approval ratings, which usually held above 60 percent. According to a poll taken by the University of Connecticut, they had dropped to 42 percent by October.
Finally, on February 2, after 153 days, Dodd invited a select group of reporters to his office in Hartford to briefly "review" over 100 pages of documentation concerning his 2003 refinancing with Countrywide. This press conference, penned by The Wall Street Journal as a "Peek-A-Boo Disclosure," was highly criticized and left many questions unanswered. While it appeared as though Dodd refinanced at a standard rate, he received other preferential treatment including a free "float-down," or the right to borrow at a lower rate even if interest rates decrease. There was also no documentation proving Dodd's claim that he was unaware of the benefits he enjoyed as a VIP. Once again, discontent over Dodd's lack of transparency was reflected in his approval ratings, which struggled to remain above 40 percent from February through mid-March.
Clearly, the role Dodd played in rewriting legislation to make AIG executives eligible for bonuses funded by U.S. tax dollars has only deepened his image as an untrustworthy politician with corporate priorities. Only time will tell if Dodd's year of deception will seal his fate in 2010.