The news was buried deep in the June 3 edition of the New York Times: "A New Jersey political donor with mysterious sources of income and connections that reached into the White House and both political parties pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark yesterday to charges of illegally channeling $53,700 into the 1996 campaign of Sen. Robert G. Torricelli."
Why wasn't this on the Sunday front page? And where was the foaming New York Times editorial condemning campaign-finance corruption?
Sen. Torricelli of New Jersey is no back-bench politician. He's the Democratic Party's chief moneyman, political talk-show regular and vice-presidential wanna-be. Nor is David Chang, the donor who admitted to five misdemeanor election-law crimes and one felony count of obstruction of justice, an obscure contributor. He's a Beijing-born, Rolls Royce-driving commodities trader who has dined with President Clinton, garnered personal references from former President George Bush and funneled nearly $300,000 into U.S. elections during the last seven years.
Yet, in much the same manner that Vice President Al Gore continues to embrace convicted campaign-finance felon Maria Hsia as his "friend" while avoiding any responsibility for the illicit nature of his friendship with her, Torricelli persists in calling Chang his friend while eschewing blame for the donor's criminal conduct.
And none of the media's top campaign-ethics mavens seem to mind. The watchdogs often moan about the "complexity" of campaign-finance laws. Chang broke the most basic rules: He made contributions to the Torricelli campaign that exceeded individual limits. He made illegal corporate donations. He made secret donations in the name of others. He illegally reimbursed the straw donors. And he obstructed justice by pressuring one of his former employees to lie to a grand jury investigating allegations of campaign-finance lawbreaking in the 1996 elections.
Birds of a feather wade in murky waters together. Torricelli, however, says he didn't know what his good buddy and supporter was doing and shouldn't be held accountable. Why not? It was Torricelli who appointed Chang to his 1996 campaign-finance committee -- even though Chang had made $12,000 in illegal contributions to former California representative Jay Kim in 1992. Kim, a Republican, later pleaded guilty to accepting and hiding $230,000 in illegal donations from Korean companies and left Congress in disgrace. …