Republicans have scored points in the long-running political fund-raising scandal. Between videos of President Bill Clinton embracing a fund-raiser with close ties to Asian businesses and saffron-robed Buddhist nuns justifying a money-raising lunch attended by Vice President Al Gore, pressure is building for the appointment of an independent counsel to examine the Democrats’ scramble for campaign donations.
But Republicans are also vulnerable on the foreign-money issue. Indeed, they are especially lucky that one of their most questionable relationships has gone virtually unmentioned amid the controversies about mysterious Asian political money. That is the GOP’s long and lucrative relationship with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Korea-based Unification Church.
Over the past quarter-century, the 77-year-old Moon has given the U.S. conservative movement sums estimated in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. Most notably, Moon’s deep pockets have financed the Washington Times, a leading conservative voice and one of the capital’s two daily newspapers. But he also has invested heavily in building the right’s political infrastructure, from direct-mail outlets to video-production houses, from think tanks to academic centers.
Much of Moon’s influence-buying is done in secret and often occurs when conservatives are vulnerable to being bought. A recent example is Christian right leader Jerry Falwell, who feared his fundamentalist Liberty University in Virginia was slipping into bankruptcy. Desperate for an infusion of cash, Falwell and two associates made an unannounced trip to South Korea in January 1994, where they solicited help from Unification Church representatives, according to documents on file in a court case in Bedford County, Va. Months later, Moon’s organization funneled $3.5 million to Liberty University through a clandestine channel. The money was delivered through one of Moon’s front groups, the Women’s Federation for World Peace. It then passed through the Christian Heritage Foundation, a Virginia nonprofit corporation that was buying up--and forgiving--Liberty’s debt.
On Jan. 28, 1995, during his nationally televised “Old Time Gospel Hour,” Falwell credited the directors of the foundation, Daniel A. Reber and Jimmy Thomas, with saving Liberty. Falwell made no mention of his more prominent financial angel, Moon, who is objectionable to many fundamentalist Christians because of his unusual biblical interpretations and his recruitment of young people away from their families.
I discovered the $3.5-million contribution while examining the Internal Revenue Service records of Moon-connected organizations. On the 1995 tax report for the Women’s Federation, there was a line item listing $3.5 million going to the Christian Heritage Foundation. Susan Fefferman, the federation’s vice president, admitted the money was targeted for Falwell’s Liberty University.
In many indirect ways, Moon’s companies have generated money for conservative businesses, in effect, tiding them over during slack times so they are still around to do nitty-gritty political work in election years. Moon’s Insight magazine, for example, in 1991 granted a $5-million contract to Direct Mail Communications, a small firm in Forest, Va., run by Falwell’s friends, Reber and Thomas. The Insight contract constituted more than one-third of the firm’s annual revenue. During later campaign seasons, DMC was available to do political mailings for the Republican National Committee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the National Rifle Assn. and Iran-Contra figure Oliver L. North.
Some of DMC’s political direct-mail work was allegedly performed at a discount. In 1994, when DMC’s owners had a falling out, one faction accused Reber and Thomas of undercharging favored conservative organizations and political figures. Falwell’s televangelist organizations and a GOP candidate for a congressional seat in Florida were given a financial break, according to court records. Other conservative politicians seemed to have gotten extended credit when DMC performed work for them. After North lost his run for the U.S. Senate in 1994, his largest debt, $89,033, was to DMC, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Over the years, Moon’s hidden money has helped many Republicans through hard times. In the 1980s, the American Freedom Council defended North against Iran-Contra charges and distributed 30 million pieces of political literature to help elect George Bush in 1988. It was later revealed that the AFC was backed by $5 million to $6 million from business interests associated with Moon.
Moon’s organization also kept the right’s direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie afloat in the 1980s. At one stage, Viguerie profited from a big contract with the Washington Times for subscription solicitations, then, while facing a financial crisis that threatened his company’s future, Viguerie sold a building to a top Moon aide, Bo Hi Pak, for $10 million.
Yet, even as Moon has gained influence in GOP circles, the sources of his money have always been suspect. In the late 1970s, a congressional investigation tied Moon’s Unification Church to the “Koreagate” influence-buying scheme directed by South Korea’s intelligence service, the KCIA, against U.S. institutions. In 1983, the moderate Republican Ripon Society raised warning flags, too. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), then Ripon chairman, charged that Moon’s church had “infiltrated the new right and the party it [the new right] wants to control, the Republican Party, and infiltrated the media as well.”
But President Ronald Reagan embraced the Washington Times as his “favorite” newspaper and Moon’s newspaper returned the favor by defending the Reagan-Bush administrations at nearly every turn. In 1991, President Bush invited the paper’s new editor-in-chief, Wesley Pruden, to lunch “just to tell you how valuable the Times has become in Washington, where we read it every day.”
Still, to this day, it is unclear how Moon finances his costly operations. The Washington Times alone is estimated to lose at least $35 million a year and some insiders put the annual losses at more than $100 million. When I asked Moon’s legal representative, Peter Ross, about Moon’s money sources, he responded: “Each year, the church retains an independent accounting firm to do a national audit and produce an annual financial statement. . . . [It] is not my policy to make it [publicly] available.”
Despite the secrecy, former senior figures of the Unification Church have told me that large amounts arrive in cash from overseas, particularly from Japan but also from South America, where Moon recently has increased his activities. Bolstering these claims are recent court records in Massachusetts and New York revealing that $1 million was carried into the United States by visiting church members. That money, for just one project, was then allegedly laundered through Moon-connected businesses in New York. According to the sworn affidavit of Nansook Moon, the estranged wife of Moon’s son, Hyo Jin, some of the money was diverted to buy cocaine and other personal extravagances.
Besides questions of legality, the Moon money could prove embarrassing to the Republicans because of Moon’s growing contempt for the United States and its democratic principles. Moon’s P.R. agents still tout Moon’s praise of the United States when he arrived here in the 1970s. But his recent speeches, carried on the Internet and in church publications, tell a different story.
On March 5, 1995, for instance, Moon announced in one sermon that “you must realize that America has become the kingdom of Satan.” On Aug. 4, 1996, he vowed that after his movement gains power, Americans who insist on maintaining their individuality “will be digested.” American women must learn “to negate yourself 100%,” he added in the same sermon. On May 1, 1997, Moon told his followers that “the country that represents Satan’s harvest is America.”
John Stacey, a former Unification Church youth leader and a recent defector, told me that Moon explained to a church leadership group in Alaska that “America is so satanic that even hamburgers should be considered evil, because they come from America.”
So far, Moon’s anti-Americanism has drawn little notice. But if attention on the current Asian political-influence-buying scandal takes a bipartisan turn, U.S. conservatives who have benefited from Moon’s deep pockets might find the controversy a two-edged sword.