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Senator Ted Kennedy: Expanded Profile
By Discover The Networks
June 2009

Edward ("Ted") Moore Kennedy was born in Boston in February 1932, the youngest of nine children. His parents, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald, were both members of wealthy Irish American families in Boston. His father was also a leading member of the Democratic Party. Among Ted’s older siblings were John F. Kennedy (a future U.S. President) and Robert F. Kennedy (a future U.S. Attorney General and Senator).

As a youth, Ted Kennedy was an average student but was admitted to Harvard University as a "legacy" because his older brothers and his father had previously graduated from the school. In his sophomore year, Kennedy was expelled for paying a friend to take a Spanish exam for him. He joined the Army in 1951 and returned to Harvard two years later. He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in history and government.

In 1957 Kennedy enrolled at the University of Virginia Law School. By the time he graduated in 1959, he had been cited four times for reckless driving, thereby earning himself the nickname "Cadillac Eddie." One violation was for night-driving at ninety miles-per-hour in a suburban area, with his headlights off.

Kennedy met Virginia Joan Bennett in October 1957 and married her thirteen months later. The couple had three children together: Kara Anne (born 1960), Edward Jr. (born 1961), and Patrick (born July 1967). By the mid-1960s, however, the marriage was troubled as a result of Kennedy’s infidelities and growing alcoholism. (They would divorce in 1982.)

Kennedy entered politics in 1958, when he managed his brother John's successful campaign for a second term in the U.S. Senate. John subsequently left the Senate when he won the presidential election of 1960. Joseph Kennedy wanted Ted to fill John's Senate seat, but because the Constitution required that all U.S. senators be at least 30 years of age, Ted would not be eligible to hold that office until February 22, 1962. On Joseph Kennedy’s insistence, President-elect John Kennedy asked Massachusetts Governor Foster Furcolo to appoint Benjamin A. Smith II, a Kennedy family friend, to fill John’s old Senate seat until 1962, at which time he would be expected to step down and permit Ted Kennedy to run for the office in a special election; Furcolo complied, as did Smith.

In the aforementioned 1962 U.S. Senate special election, Kennedy, who had been working as an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, emerged victorious.

On November 22, 1963, Ted Kennedy’s brother John was assassinated by a gunman in Dallas, Texas.

In 1964 Kennedy won a landslide re-election to the Senate, and he has been re-elected every six years since then.

Kennedy was a key player in the creation of Medicare in 1965, and he was a major driving force behind the passage of the Immigration Reform Act that same year. Born of liberal ideology, the 1965 bill abolished the national-origins quota system that theretofore had regulated the ethnic composition of immigration in fair proportion to each group's existing presence in the U.S. population. Kennedy saw these ethnic quotas as an archaic form of chauvinism, thus the 1965 legislation reoriented policy away from European ethnic groups.

On February 10, 1965, Kennedy, as the Senate Immigration Subcommittee Chairman, promised his colleagues and the nation that if the Immigration Reform Act were to be passed:

"First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of [total] immigration remains substantially the same…. Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset…. Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia…. In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think…. The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs."

Kennedy was wrong on every count. The Immigration Reform Act made "family reunification" -- including extended family members -- the key criterion for immigration eligibility. Thus new citizens could, in turn, send for their families, creating an endless cycle known to sociologists as the "immigration chain."

After the passage of immigration reform, the intellectual, educational, and professional qualifications of new immigrants to America fell precipitously over time. Hispanic immigrants, by far the largest contingent, are today eight times more likely than natives to lack a ninth-grade education, and are less than half as likely to have a college degree. Moreover, contrary to Kennedy’s confident assurance that "no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge," today 21 percent of immigrants receive public assistance (versus 14 percent of natives).

On June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, Ted Kennedy's brother Robert, who was running for U.S. President, was killed by an assassin's bullet. 

In July 1969 Ted Kennedy became embroiled in what was perhaps the most infamous personal scandal of his life. On the evening of July 18 on the Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick, the senator hosted a party for volunteers who had worked on his late brother Robert's 1968 presidential campaign. Shortly before midnight, Kennedy, whose wife was not at the event, left the party accompanied by a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne.

With Miss Kopechne in the passenger's seat of Kennedy’s Oldsmobile, the senator accidentally drove off a wooden bridge and into tide-swept Poucha Pond (which was, at that location, a channel); the vehicle came to rest, upside down, under the water. Kennedy managed to escape, but the young woman remained trapped inside the car and died. The senator soon left the scene of the accident and, instead of reporting what had occurred, spent the next ten hours concocting an alibi while the car lay unnoticed beneath the water. Kennedy eventually pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.

A week after the incident, Kennedy went on national television to deliver a public "explanation" written by JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen. Among the senator’s assertions were the following:

  • there was “no truth whatever to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct” regarding Kennedy’s relationship with Kopechne
  • he “was not driving under the influence of liquor”
  • his conduct during the hours immediately following the accident “made no sense to [him] at all”
  • he “regard[ed] as indefensible that fact that [he] did not report the accident to the police immediately”
  • “[a]ll kinds of scrambled thoughts” went through his mind after the accident, including “whether the girl might still be alive somewhere out of that immediate area”; “whether some awful curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys”; “whether there was some justifiable reason for [him] to doubt what had happened and to delay [his] report”; and “whether somehow the awful weight of this incredible incident might in some way pass from [his] shoulders.”
  • he was overcome “by a jumble of emotions -- grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock”

Not long after the Chappaquiddick tragedy, Kennedy announced that he would not be a candidate in the next U.S. presidential election, scheduled for November 1972. In January 1971, Kennedy lost his position as Senate Majority Leader to Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
By the late 1970s, Kennedy was ready to vie with the unpopular incumbent, Jimmy Carter, for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. An August 1979 poll showed Kennedy leading Carter by a 2-to-1 margin. By the time the senator formally announced his candidacy on November 7, however, his momentum had begun to wane, largely because of the public's distaste for an unimpressive, rambling response he had given a few days earlier to CBS newsman Roger Mudd’s question: "Why do you want to be President?" Kennedy’s campaign never regained its original traction, and eventually the senator dropped out of the race.

In the early 1980s Kennedy was a key supporter of Randall Forsberg's Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a Soviet-sponsored initiative that would have frozen the USSR's military superiority in place. On March 24, 1983 -- the day after Ronald Reagan’s speech about the need for the U.S. to develop a missile-defense system -- Kennedy went to the Senate floor and condemned the President’s “misleading Red-Scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.”

During that same, tense period of the Cold War, Kennedy made secret overtures to the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, in an effort to undermine Reagan's presidency. The evidence for this comes from a highly classified May 14, 1983 letter that KGB head Viktor Chebrikov wrote to the Soviet General Secretary, Yuri Andropov. In the letter, Chebrikov relayed to Andropov an offer from Senator Kennedy, presented by Kennedy’s old friend (and former Democratic senator from California) John Tunney, to reach out to the Soviet leadership. According to Chebrikov, Kennedy was deeply troubled by the deteriorating relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, and he feared that the two nations were coming perilously close to nuclear confrontation. The senator, according to Chebrikov, blamed this situation entirely on Reagan. Moreover, said Chebrikov, Kennedy was “very impressed” with Andropov.

Chebrikov's letter further spoke of Kennedy’s desire to stop Reagan's allegedly aggressive defense policies and his 1984 re-election bid. The letter stated that Kennedy had recommended a number of PR moves to help the Soviets counter Reagan’s “propaganda” and improve their image with the American public. Specifically, the senator had suggested a plan to put Andropov and other senior apparatchiks in touch with influential members of the American media, through whom they could better present their message and make their case. Specifically, the names of Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters were mentioned in the letter. Also, said Chebrikov, Kennedy himself had offered to travel to Moscow to meet with Andropov.

In 1987 Kennedy led Senate Democrats in their bitter fight to prevent the confirmation of President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork, whose originalist judicial philosophy Kennedy rejected. Less than an hour after Bork’s nomination, Kennedy, whose staff had thoroghly researched the judge’s writings and record, went to the Senate floor to announce his opposition. Among his remarks were the following:

"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens ..."

Largely as a result of Kennedy’s efforts, Bork’s nomination was defeated, both in committee and in the full Senate.

In July 1992 Kennedy married his second wife, a Washington attorney named Victoria Anne Reggie, who was 22 years his junior.

Throughout his political career, Kennedy has advocated the wholesale redistribution of wealth via steeply progressive tax rates designed to fund an ever-expanding array of entitlement programs and social-welfare benefits as well as the public education system. Opposed to any provisions in the tax laws that might help mid- to high-earners minimize their tax liability, Kennedy once said, on the Senate floor, that he would be glad if “the word ‘shelter’ disappears from the tax vocabulary.”[1] On another occasion, he said, “Instead of shutting down classrooms [due to a supposed lack of funding], let us shut off tax shelters.”[2] Whenever fellow legislators propose tax cuts, Kennedy typically frames them as “giveways” and “bonanzas” intended to help only the wealthy.[3] And in the name of social justice, he supports the inheritance tax on assets that are transferred from one generation to the next; a repeal of that tax, he says, would unjustly “benefit millionaires.”[4]

But while the multi-millionaire Kennedy stands firmly in favor of raising taxes on high earners across the United States, he has shown himself to be most reluctant to pay taxes on his own wealth. For many years, Merchandise Mart, the Chicago-based real estate conglomerate that Joseph Kennedy established in 1935, was the most valuable asset belonging to Ted Kennedy and his family. In 1974 Joseph Kennedy divided Merchandise Mart’s ownership among numerous family members, including Ted, in the form of a trust that was domiciled in the Pacific island of Fiji. Because the trust is based in Fiji, it is not subject to the taxes that are normally imposed on trusts domiciled in the United States.

As of 2005, the tax rate on U.S.-based trusts was 49 percent on everything above the first $2 million. But as of 2005, the Kennedys, who had transferred at least $300 million in trust funds from one generation to another, had paid a mere $132,000 in estate taxes -- a rate of four one-hundredths of one percent.[5] Had they set up those trusts in the United states, they would have owed more than 7,000 times that amount in taxes.

Ted Kennedy also receives additional money -- free of inheritance taxes -- from a series of trusts that were established for him in 1926, 1936, 1978, 1987, and 1997.

Kennedy has become skilled at avoiding not only inheritance taxes but also property taxes. For example, in 1980 the Chicago Tribune conducted an investigation which found that although Merchandise Mart had a market value of $35 million, it had been assessed at only $22.8 million by tax assessor (and Ted Kennedy political ally) Thomas Tully. The low assessment permitted Kennedy and his extended family to decrease their property taxes by some $4 million over the course of two years. Another Kennedy-owned building, Apparel Mart, received similar, preferential consideration from the tax assessor, saving Kennedy and his clan another several million dollars in property taxes.[6]

In yet another maneuver to avoid paying taxes, Senator Kennedy has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax-free Massachusetts bonds.[7]

An additional area where Kennedy’s rhetoric is inconsistent with his actions is in the realm of affirmative action. Publicly, Kennedy champions the virtues of race- and gender-preferences (in favor of nonwhite minorities and women) in business and academia. Largely because of his unwavering support of affirmative action programs, the NAACP has given Kennedy a perfect 100 percent rating.

But in his private business dealings, Kennedy prefers not to be bound by the dictates of affirmative action regulations. In 1981, for instance, the senator and his family formed two limited partnerships under whose auspices they purchased an entire city block of prime piece of real estate near the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Their intent was to build, on that land, an upscale office complex that could generate a fortune in rental income.

The DC Redevelopment Land Agency had previously enacted a set-aside requirement mandating that minority-owned businesses be guaranteed of participating, to some extent, in any new development project like the one planned by the Kennedys. At the senator's request, Kennedy political ally and DC mayor Marion Berry -- an African American who strongly supported affirmative action -- waived the set-aside clause.

By the late 1980s, the newly constructed Kennedy building housed several government agencies as long-term renters. The senator, to avoid the “appearance of a conflict of interest,” sold his stake in the property to his father’s trust company, Joseph P. Kennedy Enterprises. As of 2005, the building was worth $200 million.[8]

Another hallmark of Senator Kennedy’s career has been his passionate, outspoken advocacy of leftwing environmentalist crusades. He has introduced dozens of bills to encourage the development of solar, hydrogen, and wind energy as alternatives to oil and coal. He once told an audience at the National Press Club that Americans must “start demanding immediate action to reduce global warming and prevent catastrophic climate change that may be on our horizon now.” “We should replace our dependence on foreign oil,” he added, “not by drilling in the priceless Arctic National wildlife Refuge in Alaska, but by investing in clean energy.”[9]

Then, in 2003, a group of investors launched an initiative known as the Cape Wind Project, whose aim was to meet most of Cape Cod’s electricity needs with wind power rather than the coal-fired power plants that were then in use. A 3,800-page study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that the project was economically feasible and would provide “compelling environmental and economic benefits” to the area.

But the Kennedys objected. At issue was the fact that the proposed wind turbines, which the senator and his family considered to be unsightly, would be built on Nantucket Sound -- six miles off the coast of the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, and in the immediate vicinity of one of the family's favorite sailing and yachting areas. Shortly after the report was issued, Senator Kennedy got his longtime friend, Sen. John Warner of the Armed Services Committee, to quietly insert into the defense budget an amendment to stop the project. That amendment, however, was later withdrawn when some other senators noticed it and objected to it.[10]

While Senator Kennedy has been a relentless critic of the environmental damage allegedly caused by oil drilling, for decades he and his family have been actively engaged in the oil industry and have profited greatly from it. The Kennedys’ oil connections date back to 1950, when Joseph Kennedy purchased Arctyic Oil Company, which drilled mainly in Texas and Oklahoma. Eleven years later he bought two additional oil companies, Kenoil and Mokeen Oil, which eventually struck some massive deposits in Texas and Louisiana, earning millions of dollars for the Kennedys.[11]

The Kennedys also bought the mineral rights to hundreds of properties throughout the southern United States -- in places as far-flung as Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. They purchased most of these properties for pennies on the dollar, usually from poor farmers and rural families who had no idea that their land was rich in underground oil or natural gas. When securing these mineral rights, the Kennedys negotiated arrangements that would permit them, even if they were someday to sell the land, to continue drilling for oil and gas as long as they wished.[12] To date, Ted Kennedy and his family have earned tens of millions of dollars in profits from their oil ventures.[13]

Notwithstanding those profits, Senator Kennedy has frequently condemned oil companies for their alleged greed. When oil prices rose dramatically in late 1970s, for instance, he criticized the “excessive profits by oil companies” and he sought to eliminate a number of tax deductions from which those companies had long benefited. In particular, he crafted legislation designed to end the 22 percent depletion allowance for oil companies, characterizing it as “welfare” for the wealthy.

When writing the bill, however, Kennedy distinguished between “small struggling oil producers” (which would be permitted to keep their tax shelters) and “already cash-rich-companies,” which would not.[14] Kennedy’s companies, by the definitions the senator himself penned, fell into the former category and consequently were allowed to take depletion allowances and other drilling deductions that, over the years, would save the family hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 1985 Senator Kennedy and his family devised yet another way to avoid paying taxes: They converted their oil companies, Kenoil and Mokeen, from corporate ownership to a royalty limited partnership (i.e., a royalty trust), thereby freeing themselves from having to pay any corporate tax or income tax. Now they pay only a 15 percent capital gains tax.[15]

During the George W. Bush administration, Kennedy was an outspoken critic of the manner in which the President and his advisors conducted the war on terror. He opposed, for instance, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which, after its implementation in 2002, was known to have stopped several hundred foreign criminals and several known terrorists who attempted to enter the United States at certain official ports of entry. In late January 2003, Kennedy slipped a provision into the Senate's omnibus appropriations bill to completely cut off funding for NSEERS.

Kennedy was also one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq in 2003. In late 2002 he voted against authorizing the President to use military force against Saddam Hussein, just as he had done prior to the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Characterizing the 2003 war as "a fraud" plotted by President Bush, Kennedy accused the administration of manipulating intelligence data in order to justify an invasion of Iraq. "There was no imminent threat," the senator said on September 18, 2003. "This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud."

In 2007 Kennedy supported a carbon "cap-and-trade" system -- a massive tax scheme ostensibly designed to reduce "greehouse gas emissions" -- which would impose an estimated $4,500 in additional yearly costs on every family of four.

Over the course of his long legislative career, Kennedy has dramatically changed his position on the issue of abortion. In a now-famous 1971 letter to a constituent, the senator wrote that "human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old." But Kennedy has since become an unwavering proponent of abortion-on-demand. He has voted several times -- in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2003 -- to ban the late-term procedure commonly known as “partial-birth abortion.” In 2004 he voted against a proposal to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman. He consistently receives ratings of 100 percent from abortion-advocacy groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.

As the 2008 presidential election season approached, Kennedy initially stated that he would support John Kerry if the latter chose to run. When Kerry opted not to join the race, Kennedy remained neutral while Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled in the primaries. Eventually Kennedy opted to support Obama, an endorsement he announced on January 28, 2008.

In May 2008 Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. From his sickbed, he quietly orchestrated meetings with lobbyists and lawmakers to craft legislation for a government-run health-care plan, which he called "the cause of my life." One of the groups with which he collaborated most closely was We Believe Together -- Health Care for All.

For an overview of Kennedy’s voting record on a number of key issues, click here.


[1] Peter Schweizer, Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy (New York: Doubleday, 2005), p. 79.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 80.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., p. 81.
[6] Ibid., p. 82.
[7] Ibid., p. 83.
[8] Ibid., p. 84.
[9] Ibid., p. 85.
[10] Ibid., pp. 87-88.
[11] Ibid., p. 89.
[12] Ibid., p. 90.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., p. 91.
[15] Ibid., p. 92.

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