1996 Fund-Raising Scandals Bring Stiff Penalty
The Federal Election Commission disclosed Friday that it has imposed a record-setting $719,000 in fines against participants in the 1996 Democratic Party fund-raising scandals involving contributions from China, Korea and other foreign sources.
The FEC documents describe Democratic fund-raisers who set specific prices for foreign nationals to make illegal campaign contributions in return for meetings with then-President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. A Democratic finance vice chair, for example, said organizers would have to contribute a total of $100,000 in return for Gore’s appearance at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles.
Those penalized included the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton-Gore campaign, the Buddhist temple and nearly two dozen people and corporations acting as conduits for illegal contributions. All have agreed to pay, according to the documents.
The total in fines would have been significantly higher except that some of the corporations have folded and others were dummy operations, with no assets, set up as conduits for money from China, Venezuela, Canada and other countries. Foreign individuals and organizations are barred from contributing to federal elections. In some cases, foreigners who would have been subject to fines could not be located and served with papers. In other cases, which sometimes produced minor news coverage, the individuals pleaded guilty in criminal cases and are bankrupt.
The DNC was fined $115,000, the Clinton-Gore campaign $2,000, and the Buddhist Progress Society $120,000. In the conciliation signed by DNC lawyer Joseph Sandler, the party agreed to pay the fine and to “disgorge [an additional] $128,000" to the U.S. Treasury, representing illegal contributions that were not returned to donors.
In a separate document, the FEC said it decided to drop cases against contributors of more than $3 million in illegal DNC contributions because the respondents are either “out of the country and beyond our reach, or corporations that are defunct.”
In more than 400 pages of documents, the FEC detailed a variety of illegal fund-raising schemes in the 1996 Clinton reelection group.
In some respects, the 1996 fund-raising efforts by the Clinton White House and the DNC were a Democratic counterpart to the Republican Watergate scandals of 1972.
Just as Watergate was followed by the campaign finance laws of 1974 and 1976, disclosures of the 1996 activities played a crucial role in prompting Congress to enact the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law this year.
The FEC describes how John Huang, a DNC finance vice-chair in 1996, “set a goal of raising $7 million from the Asian American community.” This effort included the now-famous luncheon with Gore at the Buddhist temple, and a “coffee” at the White House and a “birthday dinner for President Clinton” at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in N.Y.