Troubling Questions About Locke's Asian Money Ties

WHETHER out of liberal bias, politeness, fear, indifference, or mere sloth, members of the Washington state press corps have failed to raise troubling questions about Gov.-elect Gary Locke's Asian money ties. State records show that at least two central figures connected with a White House campaign-finance scandal are also connected to Locke's gubernatorial fund-raising efforts. The Democratic National Committee is returning heaps of illegal contributions it received from those dubious individuals.

Yet no one has bothered to ask whether Locke should do the same.

It doesn't take a Deep Throat or even a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) records. They're publicly available to anyone with a modem and a modicum of curiosity - on the Internet at Sifting through the latest PDC files posted on Dec. 30, two names among Gov. Locke's countless campaign donors caught my eye: John Huang and P. Kanchanalak.

John Huang is the Democratic National Committee fund-raiser who allegedly obtained illegal campaign contributions from foreigners and funneled them to the DNC through Chinese restaurant owners, impoverished Buddhist monks and New Age quacks. More than $1 million in questionable or illegal donations collected by Huang have been returned in recent months. Huang's fund-raising activities are now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Elections Commission.

PDC records show that Huang and his wife Jane contributed a total of $1,000 to the Locke campaign. In late October, Locke attended a fund-raiser in Los Angeles that drew about 200 people and raised an estimated $30,000. John Huang co-sponsored the event, although he did not attend. In a brief telephone conversation over the weekend, Jane Huang said she and her husband had met Locke - but declined to give any more details about their personal or business relations. Calls to Locke's transition staff yesterday were not returned.

Last fall, Locke publicly called for a thorough investigation into the charges against Huang. In light of the DNC's subsequent findings and actions, however, the governor-elect has announced no effort to return Huang's personal campaign donations - or to review the propriety of funds raised at the Huang-co-sponsored event in L.A.

Pauline Kanchanalak is the Thai businesswoman whose purported contributions of $253,000 were returned by the DNC after she claimed the money actually came from her mother-in-law, Praitun Kanchanalak, a U.S. citizen living in McLean, Virginia. It is illegal for foreign citizens to make campaign contributions in the U.S., and it is illegal to disguise the actual source of such contributions.

Nevertheless, Pauline Kanchanalak made at least 26 trips to the White House over the past four years - and she didn't just stand on the East lawn for a few quickie Kodak moments. During the extensive course of her White House visits, she met with President Clinton, Vice President Gore and National Security Council staffers.

On June 18th, the DNC received a check for $85,000 from "P. Kanchanalak;" the same day, Pauline Kanchanalak and several Thai business tycoons met with Clinton in the White House. An amazing coinky-dink! The kaffeeklatsch was arranged by none other than John Huang. Last week, Common Cause called on Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate that meeting, charging that it appeared to violate a federal law prohibiting the "sale of a meeting" with government officials.

No word from Locke about returning the $1,000 donation he received from "P. Kanchanalak" of McLean, Virginia. Pauline's lawyer, Bill Hou, told me that check came from her mother-in-law. But that's the same line Kanchanalak gave the DNC - and they didn't buy it. Given the ambiguity, Locke should think twice about having accepted the money. Yet there has been no clamor whatsoever from the local press challenging Locke to do so.

Fear of being labeled "Asian bashers" may be one factor. With encouragement from the DNC, some Asian leaders have raised the racism flag effectively.

"I would hope nobody is painted with a broad brush," Locke said in Los Angeles. Me, too, Mr. Locke. But if anything's "racist," it's the decision to ignore the overwhelming evidence of impropriety by Huang and Kanchanalak simply because they are Asian.

Huang and Kanchanalak are not just ordinary citizens of Asian descent. They are not just bit players, but leading characters in a Byzantine White House-DNC money-laundering drama. And they have been linked to tawdry incidents that suggest influence-peddling of the worst kind. The amount donated directly by Huang and Kanchanalak to the Locke campaign is small, but the unseemly shadow they cast ought to raise more than one pair of eyebrows.

Locke can dispel doubts easily by answering pointed questions about whether he has done the right thing regarding his Asian money ties. But someone has to ask the questions first. Here's one for starters: If the DNC thinks Huang and Kanchanalak's money stinks enough to send it back, why doesn't Locke? ----------------------------------------------------------------- Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is: