Evan Bayh, corporate lackey?

A thoughtful HA reader noticed the uptick in Evan Bayh’s stock as a potential running mate for Barack Obama, and sent a link to a story from December noting Susan Bayh’s extensive connections to corporate America.  Susan Bayh has become a “professional board member”, working for companies with a lot of interest in the votes cast by her husband in the US Senate.  These connections have earned the suspicion of the progressive-leaning CREW and may become too much baggage for Obama to bear — or could it help instead?

Since leaving Indiana as a first lady, Susan Bayh has become a professional board member, earning more than $1 million a year in director fees for advice she gives to companies that make pharmaceuticals, operate radio stations, sell health insurance policies, offer online banking and distribute ingredients to fast-food restaurants.

In the past four years, Bayh collected more than $1.7 million in pre-tax income when she exercised stock options from two of the corporations. Her actual income from exercising stock options is higher, but the details of one transaction were not publicly reported.

During the same time, her husband, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., cast more than 3,000 votes, including some on issues of keen interest to the pharmaceutical, broadcast, insurance, food-distribution and finance industries.

Bayh already has trouble with the netroots as a VP selection, and the corporate ties would almost certainly raise objections.  She sits on at least eight different corporate boards, including a pharmaceutical company, one of the betes noirs of the Left. She earned an income of almost a million dollars in 2006 in cash payments and stock options for her efforts, compared to her husband’s $162,500 salary as a Senator.

Mrs. Bayh claims not to lobby her husband on corporate matters, but the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) doesn’t accept the existence of a wall between the Bayhs:

Sloan insists that there’s no way a married couple can truly wall off their professional lives from each other. Even though Senate rules do not prohibit a spouse from sitting on a corporate board, she said, “there is at least an appearance issue that a member (of Congress) may be making a decision beneficial to the corporation the spouse basically works for.”

One obvious comparison to be made would be Cindy and John McCain, but the analogy is faulty.  Mrs. McCain owns her own business and has a pre-nuptial agreement separating her finances from her husband.  The beer business does not have a lot of involvement in Congress, and while certain fringe elements of the political spectrum resent corporations entirely, they don’t generally become Republicans.  The possibility of influence seems very remote.

On the other hand, the Journal Gazette notes that Susan Bayh’s involvement in a company performing embryonic stem-cell research could have influenced her husband’s position on the contentious issue:

For instance, Susan Bayh was named to the board of Curis Inc. in October 2000, shortly after it was founded to explore how stem cells (although not specifically embryonic stem cells) could lead to treatment for diseases. Less than a year later, President Bush announced that federal money could be used for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence. Twice – in 2006 and this year – the Senate voted to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Sen. Bayh voted for the expansion each time.

Bayh said he was guided by what he thinks honors life the most – using unwanted frozen embryos for research rather than throwing them away – not by whether Curis could benefit from decisions Congress made.

But could the corporate connections help Obama?  He has a reputation of at least mild hostility to businesses and investment, made clear in his proposed capital-gain tax hikes and windfall-profits taxes.  Bringing on a running mate with such strong ties to the corporate community could send a moderating message.  It could also help provide a mild rebuke to the netroots, which may gain him a little show of independence from the extreme.

If Bayh gets the nod, expect this to become one big part of the debate.