Some DNC Donors Also Aided Key Legislators
Ten individuals who figure prominently in the controversy over foreign-linked donations to the Democratic Party also gave at least $158,160 in campaign money to members of Congress over the past eight years, an analysis of federal election records shows.
Most of the political contributions went to Democratic lawmakers, among them Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and three members of the Senate committee investigating the fund-raising matter. Some donations also were made to Republicans.
The donors include embattled former Democratic fund-raiser John Huang and his wife, Jane, of Glendale; Huang’s former boss at the Lippo Group, an Indonesia-based conglomerate with close ties to President Clinton; and six other contributors who have been issued subpoenas for their roles in the widening controversy.
The fallout on Capitol Hill from these contributions, which amount to significantly larger sums to more lawmakers than previously reported, comes as tensions are mounting over the scope of various congressional inquiries into the fund-raising controversy. Some Senate Republicans are seeking to prevent the Governmental Affairs Committee from investigating campaign practices beyond the 1996 presidential race, while Democratic leaders have objected to the proposed $6.5-million budget sought by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman.
The donations also raise the possibility that at least three members of the Senate committee may have a conflict of interest because they accepted money from some of the same people the panel is investigating--although one lawmaker eventually gave his contribution back.
“It raises the question of how they can sit in judgment when they are mired in the very same system,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, a recently established campaign finance reform organization. “As congressional lawmakers have screamed about the corruption of the presidential campaign process by foreign interests, they would be well served by looking in their own backyard.”
Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, the ranking Democrat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, announced Thursday that he planned to return $1,600 in contributions to Mark W. Grobmyer, a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer and Clinton golf partner who served as a business consultant to Lippo executive James T. Riady. Grobmyer was served with a Senate subpoena last week.
“We don’t want to have any situation that would compromise the integrity of this investigation, and that’s got to be the No. 1 priority,” said Jack Sparks, Glenn’s press secretary.
Initially, Sparks said Thursday that Glenn had no intention of returning the money.
“He’s on the committee,” Sparks said. “And now it is determined that someone involved has given him money. But Sen. Glenn’s not going to let that change his judgment or how he’s going to conduct that investigation,” Sparks had said.
California’s Democratic senators took divergent paths. Boxer said that she intended to keep the campaign money, while Feinstein ordered contributions from the Huangs to be returned an hour after The Times brought the contributions to her staff’s attention.
“When I told her that the [Democratic National Committee] was also returning checks from Lippo, she doesn’t even want the appearance of impropriety,” said Susan Kennedy, Feinstein’s press secretary.
A review by The Times of Federal Election Commission records found that the 10 individuals deeply involved in the Democratic fund-raising flap had contributed to several dozen congressional campaigns since 1988.
The amounts donated to congressional campaigns pale in comparison to the tens of millions of dollars given to party committees because donations to federal candidates are limited to $1,000 for the primary election and $1,000 for the general election.
The DNC has returned $1.6 million in illegal or questionable donations so far and is expected to announce at least an additional $1 million in refunds at a news conference today. About $1.2 million of the returned funds were solicited among Asian and Asian American donors by Huang, a onetime Commerce Department official and a prolific DNC fund-raiser who was laid off late last year.
Huang also donated large sums to members of Congress, records show. He and his wife had given $90,506 to congressional campaigns since 1988.
Others who gave to congressional campaigns are Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak, whose $253,500 in contributions to the DNC were deemed improper and returned in November, and Johnny Chien Chuen Chung, a Torrance entrepreneur whose $366,000 in DNC donations are under review amid disclosures that he brought Chinese government officials into the White House.
Orange County’s Sanchez received a $1,000 check from Chung on Sept. 6, according to her campaign reports. Chung made the donation after meeting the congressional candidate at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, said Sanchez spokesman John Shallman. “All of the people in interesting races were shepherded into receptions [in Chicago] where there were big gunners,” he said. “She had a visible race and was also from Southern California.”
Shallman said Sanchez would not return the money. “If she is contacted by him or individuals in an improper manner for influence she would move swiftly to deal with that; she has not been,” he said. “Giving it back would suggest he would have influence on her, and he certainly doesn’t, nor do any of her other contributors.”
The Times analysis found seven donors to congressional campaigns who have been issued subpoenas: Huang, Chung, Kanchanalak, Grobmyer, former White House aide Mark E. Middleton, Arkansas lawyer C. Joseph Giroir Jr. and Taiwanese American restaurateur Yah Lin “Charlie” Trie. An eighth donor, Riady, runs the Lippo organization, which received nearly a dozen subpoenas.
Not all the money went to Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s leading critic of campaign finance reforms, received $2,000 from Huang and his wife in 1989. Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, also received $1,000 from Huang.
McConnell, a leading advocate of excluding congressional campaigns from the fund-raising inquiry planned by the Senate, said he would not return the $2,000.
“Mr. Huang was apparently not under investigation in 1989, when he made the contribution to Sen. McConnell,” the senator’s press secretary, Robert Steurer, said in a written statement. “Therefore, there is no reason to return a 7-year-old contribution made by an American citizen.”
Another committee member, freshman Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), gave Huang back $1,000 in October when Huang’s fund-raising activities were first disclosed.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), another member on the investigating committee, said he will not return $715 his campaign received from Riady or $1,000 from Huang in 1989, five years before he joined the Clinton administration.
Anthony J. Corrado, a professor of government at Maine’s Colby College and an expert in campaign finance, said of the donations to committee members: “It again raises the issue of whether or not this investigation can be conducted in a nonpartisan manner to make sure that we look at all fund-raising--not just the president’s coffers but also the money that has been raised on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle.”
Other members of Congress also received contributions from donors who now find themselves caught in the middle of the fund-raising investigation.
Daschle received $1,000 in 1991 from Huang’s wife and $2,500 from Trie and his relatives in the last election.
Gephardt received two contributions totaling $1,500 from P. Kanchanalak of Phoriae Associates in McLean, Va., in 1994.
Feinstein’s office also said she would be thinking about what to do with $3,000 she received in 1994 from Lippo Bank executive Charles Dequeljoe, who was living in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the time.
Since the White House fund-raising controversy broke, Feinstein has decided to accept contributions only from U.S. citizens, even though the law also allows legal immigrants to donate.
Boxer, however, intends to hold on to $1,000 that Jane Huang gave her in 1994, money that will be used in her upcoming campaign.
“The campaign doesn’t accept contributions that violate federal law, and they don’t accept contributions from people under investigation or convicted of serious crimes,” said Roy Behr, consultant to Boxer’s current campaign. “This contribution is a legal contribution from someone who has not been accused or is being investigated for anything.”
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Los Angeles) said that in light of the recent stories centering on Huang’s activities, he was reconsidering his initial decision to keep $2,400 that Huang gave him in 1987, 1989 and 1991--years before Huang became a campaign rainmaker for the DNC.
“What is . . . clearer than it was before, he must have done some things improper,” Berman said. “It may be a good thing to rethink it.”
Researcher Janet Lundblad in Los Angeles and Times political writer Peter M. Warren in Orange County contributed to this story.
* FUNDING THREAT: Democrats say they may try to block funding for broad donation inquiry by GOP. A21