Another potential Hunter Biden scandal appears to be brewing. This time it’s about his foray into the world of fine art and a media report that he sold art with a high price tag to a Democratic donor.
Biden’s attempt to break into the art world was always going to look bad. Now it could become yet another political headache for President Joe Biden as Republicans dog him for his son’s history of misconduct and impropriety. And it comes as Hunter Biden’s plea deal over federal tax charges unexpectedly unraveled Wednesday.
Hunter Biden had no established reputation as an artist before his debut, but he immediately sold pieces at prices that were high for someone new to the commercial art market.
The president’s son, who hasn’t been formally trained as an artist, debuted over two dozen art pieces in a gallery in Manhattan in 2021, many of them priced at tens of thousands of dollars, and some even higher. At the time, the White House said it had developed guidelines to help ensure that the identities of buyers would be kept secret from Hunter Biden and the Biden administration, and it left it to the gallery to veto unusual or unethical offers.
Now that arrangement has come under question. Business Insider recently reported that Hunter Biden knew the identities of at least two people who purchased his art, and in an on-the-record statement to Business Insider, his attorney Abbe Lowell said his client learned about the identities after they bought pieces and claimed that they were his friends. According to Business Insider, one of those people is a high-dollar Democratic donor and activist. NBC News hasn’t corroborated this reporting, but Lowell’s confirmation, as reported by Business Insider, that Biden knew some of his buyers is, in and of itself, alarming. It raises the possibility that buyers could use his art as a way to buy political influence or favors through his connections to the president.
Hunter Biden had no established reputation as an artist before his debut, but he immediately sold pieces at prices that were high for someone new to the commercial art market. It seems possible that the president’s son, who has faced numerous legal problems in recent years and has had a rocky personal life, was trading on the power of his surname to earn a quick buck.
This was a foreseeable problem. As the gallery was opening, a New York Times reporter noted that its owner “declined to address what sort of criteria he or the White House had set to distinguish between lovers of art and lovers of influence.” Whatever criteria and guidelines were set, they apparently weren’t enough to keep the art purchases anonymous, making the entire forum vulnerable to potential conflicts of interest.
If this were the first time the president’s son had appeared to open himself up to the possibility of trading on his name and creating a conflict of interest, one might be inclined to be a little more forgiving. But it’s not. Hunter Biden’s first job out of law school involved working for a Delaware-based bank that was a major contributor to his father’s political campaigns. Politico has reported on how he allegedly repeatedly tried to cash in on his political connections after he took over a hedge fund. He earned $50,000 a month for sitting on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma despite having no substantive qualifications — except being the vice president’s son. On top of all this, Hunter Biden has also been charged with committing tax violations and breaking gun laws, and he was sued by a woman over the terms of his child support.
Hunter Biden’s constant stream of scandals and his history of being a brazen nepo baby have made him a perfect political target for the GOP. He helps the GOP create a false symmetry between Joe Biden and the Trump clan’s systematic exploitation of political connections for personal gain. That asymmetry doesn’t make Hunter Biden’s poor conduct any more acceptable, but it undermines the Democratic Party’s superiority to the GOP in fighting corruption and the undue influence of moneyed interests.
Hunter Biden is an adult who can’t be controlled by his father. But more robust norms for guarding against conflict of interest would’ve helped neutralize the threat he poses to the president’s reputation.