Real Clear Politics:
Joe Biden needed to talk to a family member, and the message, Politico later reported, was blunt. “For Christ’s sake,” the then-presidential candidate told his younger brother, Frank, “watch yourself. Don’t get sucked into something that would, first of all, hurt you.”
The Biden family, like other political families before it, had and still has assorted business interests. If not properly set apart from official government actions, these interests can present the appearance of impropriety. Caution was in order during the 2020 campaign, and so too now.
On Inauguration Day, Biden issued a sweeping executive order that outlined ethics requirements for executive branch personnel, and as the federal government continues to pump trillions of dollars into the economy to combat the pandemic and its impact, his administration has put in place guardrails to ensure that the relief money gets into the right hands. His family, meanwhile, continues to go about its business.
Enter Howard Krein.
A doctor and the president’s son-in-law, Krein advised Biden during the campaign on issues related to the coronavirus while simultaneously running a venture capital firm. That entity, called Startup Health, has invested in entrepreneurs eager to combat the pandemic. Krein is listed on its website as the chief medical officer.
As Bloomberg and the New York Times noted, Krein was a regular participant during health care policy calls with the campaign due to his medical expertise. At the same time, Startup Health announced plans to invest $1 million in at least 10 different ventures addressing COVID-19. And while investing in the fight against the pandemic, the company itself struggled with the economic fallout.
According to publicly available data compiled by ProPublica, Startup Health was approved for a $340,290 loan through the Paycheck Protection Program in April 2020. (PPP loans are forgivable if the company meets certain requirements, including keeping their employees on the payroll at preexisting compensation levels.) The next month, Biden criticized the very program that his son-in-law’s business was benefiting from “because of what I’d call a corrupt recovery that’s focused on helping the wealthy, the well-connected, not the millions of mom-and-pops facing financial ruin,” he said during a virtual town-hall meeting last May. “The warning signs are flashing.”
And there were concerns early on that relief funding was flowing to the particularly well-connected. As the Washington Post later reported after a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit, more than half the money the Treasury Department doled out from its small business emergency fund went to just 5% of recipients.
Startup Health seemed to have had a clean bill of fiscal health before the pandemic. When the company closed its second round of funding in September 2018, industry journal MedCity News reported that Startup Health had amassed $31 million in investments backed by the likes of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, California-based medical technology company Masimo, and notably the venture capital arm of the Chinese insurance company Ping An.