Anatomy of a Fund-Raising Scandal DEEP POCKETS OF POLITICS

Article excerpt

In the past five months, the White House has been dogged by questions about campaign fund-raising tactics.

The questions have focused on two related points: the activities of Democratic National Committee fund-raiser John Huang and the propriety of President Clinton conducting fund-raising kaffeeklatsches in the White House.

Four separate investigations are underway: by the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission, the House, and the Senate. Mr. Clinton has tried to temper the growing scandal, in part by urging Congress to pass campaign finance reform. 'Asiagate' Opens a Flood of Questions John Huang is at the center of the fund-raising scandal now dubbed "Asiagate." Mr. Huang raised at least $3.4 million for the DNC, focusing on the Asian-American community. The DNC returned $1.3 million after news reports questioned whether the money was raised illegally from sources overseas. The DNC suspended Huang on Oct. 18. Prior to becoming a Democratic fund-raiser, Huang worked as an executive with the Lippo Group, a financial conglomerate with investments throughout Asia and the US. Investigators want to know whether in his zeal to raise money for President Clinton and the Democratic Party, Huang broke federal-election and other laws. Among unanswered questions: * Were illegal campaign contributions made by foreign governments such as Taiwan and China, nations competing for influence with the Clinton administration? * Were contributions accepted from the Lippo Group or other Asian businesses and then funneled through third parties to disguise their origin? Election laws ban contributions from any foreign sources. As a result, if a fund-raiser was prone to accept illegal contributions, he or she would have to launder the money to make it appear as if it came from legitimate US-based donors. At a fund-raiser held last April at a Buddhist temple in California, a member of the temple was handed $5,000 by an unidentified person who asked the member to donate it in her own name to the DNC. Huang organized the event. The vice president of the Asian American Business Roundtable in Washington says Huang asked him to channel $250,000 to the DNC disguised as contributions from the group's members. Huang has denied making the request. Investigators are also looking into reports that a Taiwan official offered to donate $15 million to the DNC, and that the Chinese embassy in Washington may have tried to channel illegal campaign contributions to the Democrats. In addition to these concerns, the role of Clinton friend Charles Trie is also in question. …