Gov. Gary Locke's 1996 campaign treasure chest is like a box of chocolates left out in the sun: You never know what kind of sticky mess you're gonna get.
News broke over the weekend that the Internal Revenue Service wants to examine Locke's donor list. That's in addition to a fresh congressional inquiry and three separate probes by the state Public Disclosure Commission (two prompted by this column).
Locke's loyalists imply that scrutiny of his contributors is racist. The claim is as desperate as it is deceitful. Locke himself crowed that his campaign was being watched closely at the highest levels of the Chinese government. Locke himself called for a thorough investigation of charges of illegal influence-peddling and money-laundering in the Democratic Party by suspected foreign agents.
Locke complains that all yellow- and brown-skinned donors are being targeted unfairly. But the handful of contributors in question are not ordinary citizens; some may not be U.S. citizens at all. They are Buddhist monks who have left the country, Beijing-linked tycoons and family members, professional fund-raisers, and trade experts alleged to have compromised national security. The only colors at issue here are green and red: the color of campaign cash and the possible shadow of overseas communist meddling in the most trade-dependent state in the union.
The Los Angeles Times and Newsweek reported last year that in 1995, the FBI intercepted communications in which Chinese officials detailed a covert operation to counter pro-Taiwan political influence in the U.S. by funneling at least $2 million to federal, state and local races. New revelations of fishy foreign fingerprints on Locke's campaign coffers come from the Far Eastern Economic Review, a respected Hong Kong-based publication. The Aug. 13 issue reports that Locke received $5,400 in campaign contributions from family and political operatives of Indonesian businessman Ted Sioeng.
The FBI suspects Sioeng, a real estate and tobacco baron, of supplying Chinese government money to American candidates; a Senate report says he drew some of the campaign cash from Hong Kong bank accounts. The Democratic National Committee and California's GOP state treasurer Matt Fong returned hefty donations made by Sioeng's daughter, Jessica Elnitiarta, after she refused to verify their source.
The magazine article about the Locke-Sioeng connection has yet to hit these shores. But it forced Locke to admit preemptively that he had given a secret July deposition about the donations to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee (to be made public this week). Locke also revealed that he returned a maximum $1,100 contribution from a Sioeng associate after learning it was likely reimbursed illegally by Sioeng's daughter. Yet, Locke's spokesman insists in one breath that "We're not saying it was improper" and "we didn't want anything to do with it."
If bank records from congressional lawyers indicating an immediate illegal reimbursement aren't unequivocal evidence of impropriety, what is?
Given Locke's high threshold for proof of wrongdoing, it's no wonder he still refuses to return tens of thousands of dollars raised for his campaign by John Huang - the former DNC fund-raiser, ex-Commerce Department official, ex-V.P. of the infamous Indonesian Lippo Group, suspected Chinese agent, and close friend of the Sioengs (daughter Jessica refers to him as "Uncle Huang" in one internal Democratic document, according to the L.A. Times).
Huang and his wife gave token personal donations to Locke; staffers have emphasized that his finance role was minimal. Past news articles reported that Huang raised "a total of $19,000" for Locke. But last year, the campaign described to me no less than eight occasions on which Huang "coordinated," "attended," "organized" or "co-sponsored" political events attended by Locke. These include May 1996 galas at the Mayflower Hotel and Sheraton Carlton in D.C. (where Locke hobnobbed with Sioeng and President Clinton); three summer 1996 fund-raisers at Chinese restaurants in L.A.; and a cash-soaked California bash at the Universal City Hilton in October 1996 that raised upwards of $30,000.
Checks to Locke's campaign poured in from prominent Huang and Sioeng associates across the country, including: Maeley Tom, a Sacramento lobbyist who worked as a Lippo consultant; Hoyt Zia, a Commerce Department counsel, who stated in a sworn deposition that Huang had access to virtually any classified document through him; Melinda Yee, another Commerce Department official, who made routine phone calls to Lippo and is under investigation by the Justice Department for destroying notes she took on a China trade mission; Ginger Lew, who allegedly helped pilfer classified intelligence documents when she left Commerce last summer; Praitun Kanchanalak, mother of indicted Thai influence-peddler Pauline; Kent La, exclusive distributor of Sioeng's Chinese cigarettes in the U.S.; and Sioeng's wife and son-in-law.
Most of these individuals are targets of federal investigations. None of their contributions has been returned by Locke. Ostensibly, Locke doesn't want to offend his donors. But what about the embarrassment his indiscriminate fund raising has caused the citizens of Washington state?
To local Democrats' delight, President Clinton joked at a Seattle fund-raiser last fall that "It's my understanding that there's a good chance that Gary Locke has a sterling opportunity to become the first American president of China." Out of naivete, stupidity, or worse, Locke has done little to dispel that unsettling image.
Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.