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Clinton Meeting With Thai Contributor Sparks Probe Call

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Common Cause on Thursday called on Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to investigate a meeting last June between President Clinton and a Thai campaign contributor, charging that it appeared to violate a federal law prohibiting “the sale of a meeting” with government officials.

The request from the citizen’s lobby referred to a June 18 meeting at the White House at which the president reportedly discussed U.S.-China policy with five Thai business executives.

The meeting, arranged by then-Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, included party donor Pauline Kanchanalak and four of her business associates from Thailand. On the same day, Kanchanalak contributed $85,000 to the Democratic Party.

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The Democrats have since returned a total of $253,500 contributed by Kanchanalak after learning that the money she gave actually came from her mother-in-law. Federal law requires that the actual source of contributions be revealed.

Kanchanalak contends that the Democrats made a bookkeeping error in first attributing the contributions to her. Her wealthy mother-in-law, Praitun Kanchanalak, is a U.S. resident and the checks to the Democrats were signed “P. Kanchanalak.”

Overall, more than $1 million in questionable or illegal donations from Asian Americans collected by Huang have been returned since the furor over the contributions surfaced in the fall.

The Justice Department is already investigating Huang’s activities. But because the scope of the probe has not been announced, there is no way of knowing whether the Kanchanalak meeting--which came to light just late last week--is already part of the inquiry.

In a letter to Reno, Common Cause President Ann McBride said the Kanchanalak meeting should be included in the investigation because it could violate a section of the U.S. criminal code that prohibits public officials from providing any benefit to anyone in exchange for a campaign contribution.

Under this statute, McBride said, the meeting itself was a “benefit” for Kanchanalak, an international business consultant who was accompanied to the meeting by Thai representatives of the Charoen Pokaphand Group, which does business in China. She was also accompanied by another representative of the U.S.-Thai Business Council, which she heads.

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According to White House officials, the discussion at the meeting between Kanchanalak’s group and the president centered on U.S.-China relations and economic policy.

Also present at the meeting were Huang, whose job at the Democratic National Committee was to raise money from Asian Americans; DNC Chairman Donald Fowler, and DNC Finance Chairman Marvin Rosen. A notation by party officials with Kanchanalak’s $85,000 check said it was contributed at “WH coffee.”

The meeting was one of 26 visits to the White House by Kanchanalak between Jan. 29, 1993, and Nov. 30, 1996, according to documents released by the White House. Most of her other visits were for larger events involving either the president or Vice President Al Gore.

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