We just can't get the New York State Attorney General's office to return our calls about whether Harold Ford Jr. was a 2008 Merrill Lynch "bonus baby"--something that several New York and Memphis political insiders are convinced he was.
Who is Harold Ford Jr.? The scion of a notorious Memphis political family, and a 10-year Democratic U.S. congressman who relocated to New York City after losing a 2006 Senate bid to Republican Tennessee rival Bob Corker. He is now considering a primary challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Who are the Merrill Lynch "bonus babies"? Company executives who received bonuses--totaling in the billions--in December 2008. The bonuses were subject to intense scrutiny for several reasons: The company was losing gobs of money; it was receiving taxpayer bailout funds; and the bonuses--usually determined after fourth-quarter results are in--were doled out unusually early, which kept them from scrutiny by the firm’s buyer, Bank of America, and also protected them from a tax on bonuses that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.
Again, insiders believe Ford--a Merrill Lynch vice president--is high enough in the investment firm's hierarchy that he has to have been a recipient of one of the 2008 ethically questionable bonuses. His camp denies it, in predictably vague language: They are on record as saying they don't believe Ford has a "Merrill problem."
If that's the case, then why does Ford's own Web site not divulge his day job? The site's biography details all of his schooling, his congressional experience, his current chairmanship of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, his stints as an analyst NBC and MSNBC, and his visiting professorship at NYU graduate school. But it offers no mention of his employment at Merrill Lynch.
The New York Times, in its coverage of Ford's tentative entry into the Senate race, seems to be helping him keep his "Merrill problem" under wraps: More than once, the Times has said Ford moved to New York to work in "the banking industry."
There are plenty of other reasons why New Yorkers may give this conservative Democrat from Tennessee--variously described as "unctious," "inscrutable" and "an empty suit"--the cold shoulder. But first an foremost, we want to know if he was a Merrill Lynch bonus baby--and what he has to say about that. Harold Ford Jr.'s political war chest is heavily financed by the banking and investment industries, and as of this writing, he has given us no reason to believe that, if elected, he would not be completely in their pockets.