Influence Peddling, Bush Style : WHEN DEMOCRATS TOOK MONEY FROM WEALTHY ASIANS, IT WAS CALLED A FUNDRAISING SCANDAL. WHEN MEMBERS OF THE BUSH FAMILY DO IT, IT'S CALLED BUSINESS

Article excerpt

From the outset of George W. Bush's campaign, the restoration of honor and integrity to the White House has been a key sales pitch of the Texas governor. Bush has declared that it's time to replace the wheelers and dealers of the Clinton years with "plain-spoken" Americans. In a recent television ad, his allies in the Republican Party blasted Vice President Al Gore's association with scandal, noting that "because of Gore's last fundraising campaign, twenty-two people have been indicted, twelve convicted, seventy took the Fifth Amendment and eighteen witnesses fled the country." On September 23, Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson accused Gore and the Democrats of accepting money since 1996 from "foreigners who are no friends to the US." In short, Bush and his lieutenants have argued, his crowd is better than the other crowd. But Bush's crowd includes family members and a political associate who have done business with one of the prime targets of the Republicans' investigations into Chinese espionage and Democratic fundraising abuses.

In their relentless efforts to reveal and exploit Democratic misdeeds, and in search of a Beijing connection to Democratic Party fundraising violations, Republican investigators in the House and the Senate have focused on the Charoen Pokphand Group, an enormous Bangkok-based agribusiness and telecommunications conglomerate and one of the largest foreign investors in China. (The company's business registration number in China is 0001.) Its CEO is 61-year-old Dhanin Chearavanont, one of the wealthiest men in Asia, who is of ethnic Chinese descent. On June 18, 1996, Chearavanont and two CP Group officials attended one of the infamous White House kaffeeklatsches. The trio were accompanied to the meet-and-sip session with President Clinton by Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman and lobbyist, who has since pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee. (The Democrats returned the money she raised.) During the seventy-five-minute coffee, which was organized by John Huang, a DNC fundraiser who has also pleaded guilty to illegal fundraising, Chearavanont did most of the talking, stressing the importance of maintaining normal trade relations with China.

The Republican-controlled Senate Government Affairs Committee cited the June 18 event as an example of the "merchandising of the Presidency." The committee's final report noted: "It is clear that the coffee's essential purpose was to sell the President's time to Kanchanalak, who...donated $235,000 to the DNC the next day." The money for these contributions, the report maintained, came from "sources in Thailand," and the committee referred to the CP Group.

Other Clinton critics have pointed to the CP Group while chasing after evidence that China bought influence with the Administration. The Cox Report (formally titled "U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China"), which was released last year by Republican Representative Christopher Cox, recounted the June 18 coffee with Chearavanont and the two other CP Group officials as an example of how China uses its commercial allies to lobby for policies that favor China. The conservative American Spectator published a piece in June 1997 alleging that "front companies for communist China have been actively buying up (and spying on) the US," and it noted, with a heavy hint of suspicion, that the CP Group was a partner of a Chinese weapons manufacturer. Ann McBride, then the president of Common Cause, wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno in 1997, raising questions about the CP Group's attempt to sway US policy toward China. And even the liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich observed: "We know that a hundred thousand bucks get you a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, but what did the really serious loot from conglomerates like Indonesia's Lippo Group and Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group buy from the Clinton Administration? …