Locke’s ties to China may be selling point

When Davis Wright Tremaine, a Seattle-based law firm, sought to publicize its deal-making capability in China, it issued a news release trumpeting the clout of one of its newest partners, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.

Locke, the June 2005 release said, “has the star power and connections necessary to successfully do business in China.”

Locke, a Democrat who was the nation’s first Chinese American governor, had nurtured those connections during two terms as Washington’s chief executive, leading four trade missions and promoting major corporate constituents, such as Boeing Co., Microsoft Corp. and Starbucks Corp.

President Obama last week cited Locke’s promotion of global trade in nominating the 59-year-old to be secretary of Commerce.


Locke’s ties to China probably will be a selling point to advocates of stronger economic relations with the world’s largest market and one of its fastest-growing economies.

But Locke also may need to take a harder line on China, said Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents U.S.-based manufacturers. That includes pressing the Chinese to stop undervaluing their currency to reap trade advantages, he said.

As a presidential candidate, Obama supported legislation to let the U.S. impose sanctions on China and other countries found to have manipulated their currencies, Tonelson noted.

“Locke will be watched closely, given the extreme views he held on key globalization matters,” said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, a critic of corporate globalization, citing his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and a reluctance to link trade issues to alleged human rights abuses in China.

Locke has represented Microsoft, which has multiple interests in China, including product development and combating piracy. And his law firm, Davis Wright, has represented other “chronic corporate offshorers” that have sent U.S. jobs to China, Wallach said.

David Baca, a managing partner at Davis Wright, described Locke’s duties as legal work that was “focused on U.S. and international businesses opening businesses there . . . [and] how Chinese law will apply as we understand it.”

On the firm’s website, a partial list of clients in its China practice includes several U.S. manufacturers that have opened factories in China and cut back operations in the U.S.

It also includes several Chinese firms, including Bank of China, China Shipping and Shanghai Airlines.


But it couldn’t be determined which, if any, of those clients Locke represented or whether his firm’s work involved outsourcing U.S. jobs.

The White House said Locke’s client list would be disclosed when his nomination is formally submitted to Congress, but did not say when that would be.

Financially, Locke appears quite comfortable because of investments, legal work and board service, according to interviews and disclosure filings made in connection with his membership on the board of the state-backed Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which promotes bioscience in Washington.

In 2008, Locke collected about $85,000 as a director of Key Technology Corp., a food safety technology company.


Between 2005 and 2008, Locke was a director of Safeco Corp., a Seattle-based insurer bought by Liberty Mutual Group in September.

He earned $190,561 as a Safeco board member in 2007 and was scheduled to receive a similar amount in 2008. He also owned about 6,800 shares awarded to him for earlier years of board service, potentially worth $464,000 at the time of the Liberty takeover.

His personal investments lean toward firms in his home region. Locke disclosed ownership of stock worth $75,000 or more in Costco Wholesale Corp., Amgen Inc., Esterline Technologies Corp., Microsoft and Starbucks, plus holdings worth between $30,000 and $75,000 in Conseco Inc., Associated Banc-Corp. and Washington Mutual.

Locke is the son of immigrant parents and lived in public housing until he was 6. He is a graduate of Yale University and Boston University Law School and served as a prosecutor, state representative and county executive before winning the governorship in 1996 and becoming a standard-bearer for Asian American Democrats.


He and his wife, Mona, a former Seattle TV journalist, have three children.

Locke was linked by common donors to an Asian fundraising controversy involving foreign contributions to President Clinton’s reelection campaign. One of Locke’s donors, John Huang, pleaded guilty to violation of federal election laws in connection with fundraising for Clinton.

In 1998, Locke was deposed by a House committee about his ties to Huang.

The questioning produced no evidence that Locke knowingly accepted illegal campaign donations.


Locke initially declined to return some tainted campaign money.

But he ultimately gave back a total of $3,100 to Huang and others implicated in the Clinton scandal.

Separately, Locke’s campaign committee was fined $2,500 by state regulators for breaking campaign fundraising laws connected to two out-of-state fundraisers.

In 1998, Locke’s campaign was cleared of allegations that it improperly took $10,000 from members of a Buddhist temple in Redmond, outside Seattle.


A Seattle Times editorial subsequently criticized Locke for running a campaign that “pretty much took money and worried about details later. . . . Locke could have avoided this damage to his image had he set higher standards.”