Is it possible for Barack Obama to pick a Commerce Secretary nominee who’ll actually make it past first base? Bill Richardson withdrew in the midst of a pay-for-play scandal. Judd Gregg withdrew in the midst of a humiliating power play over the Census and porkulus bill.
Now, former Democrat Gov. Gary Locke — a lawyer for international firm Davis, Wright, and Tremaine who specializes in China — is rumored to be the next nominee for the post. The MSM is pulling for him. WaPo writes: “Locke is regarded as a safe choice by senior officials in the Obama administration given his long history in public life, his strait-laced reputation and his bipartisan governing credentials.” Wishful thinking? Willful cluelessness? Probably a bit of both.
I covered Gary Locke when I worked at the Seattle Times. I dealt with his campaign and gubernatorial staffs. “Strait-laced” is not the adjective I’d use for my dealings with him and his people.
In response to my columns pressing Locke on his close ties to campaign finance crook John Huang, the governor’s office first stonewalled. His standard Democrat smokescreen? Play the race card and play the victim.
From June 1999:
When I asked what the governor had to say about Huang’s guilty plea, Locke’s spokesman, Keith Love, responded tersely: “He has no comment and no interest.”
This is a most peculiar stonewall of silence.
Though Huang and his wife gave token personal donations to Locke totaling a mere $1,000, Huang is no casual acquaintance of Locke or his out-of-state fund-raising staff. As reported here previously, Huang helped organize May 1996 galas involving Locke at the Mayflower Hotel and Sheraton Carlton in Washington, D.C.; three fund-raisers at restaurants in Los Angeles, and an extravaganza at the Universal City, Calif., Hilton in October 1996 that raised upwards of $30,000.
In the Washington Post, Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News, Locke steadfastly defended his Huang-linked funds. He persistently invoked the race card to deflect criticism and castigated the national media for aggressively investigating those who benefited from the fund-raising of the then-presumed-innocent-now-self-confessed-felon Huang.
At a gathering of Asian-American journalists, Locke recently lamented: “The fund-raising scandal will have repercussions for several years. It will make our efforts doubly hard to get Asian Americans appointed to top-level positions across the United States. If they have any connection to John Huang, those individuals will face greater scrutiny and their lives will be completely opened up and examined – perhaps more than usual.”
And deservedly so. The Huang donation was the tip of the iceberg. In August 1998, I reported:
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?
Locke finally returned the money to Huang in June 1999.
But it wasn’t the end of his funny money troubles. In March 1997, I reported on Locke’s Chinatown fund-raisers out-of-state that raised thousands of dollars of cash that the campaign failed to disclose in violation of state campaign finance laws. One of those events was held at NYC’s Harmony Palace restaurant, co-owned by Chinese street gang thugs.
In September 1997, I broke the story of Locke’s suspicious trips to the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond — where the governor pulled an Al Gore and raised thousands of dollars from monks and nuns who barely spoke English, couldn’t recall donating to Locke, or were out of the country and could never be located:
Already under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission for mishandling cash contributions, Gov. Gary Locke’s gubernatorial campaign must now contend with new revelations concerning two trips to a Buddhist temple last summer where campaign dollars changed hands.
On two separate occasions, Locke visited the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond at the invitation of the temple’s founder, Grand Master Sheng-Yen Lu. Grand Master Lu, his wife, his son and several people self-described as church administrators and priests gave Locke about $13,100 in contributions.
Of the known temple donors identified by the Locke campaign, five gave $1,000 each on July 22, 1996. Two priests gave $1,000 and $1,100 respectively on Aug. 8, 1996. Three other temple adherents – Lin Wan Liu of Redmond, and Moon Chuen Lo and Shek Shuk Yee Lo of Renton – also gave $1,000 contributions on Aug. 8.
Internal campaign records show that two other temple disciples donated $2,000 and $1,000 respectively on other dates.
The money involved is considerably less than the amount connected to Vice President Al Gore’s fund-raiser at an unrelated Southern California Buddhist temple last spring (about $45,000). But Locke’s visits raise intriguing questions about whether similar, if smaller-scale, improprieties involving monks and nuns took place in our own backyard:
— Did the temple violate federal tax law?
The Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond, like the Hsi Lai temple in Los Angeles which Gore visited last spring, is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization. The Internal Revenue Service has long forbidden such places of worship from campaigning for or against a specific candidate, endorsing or opposing a candidate in writing or in speech, or raising money for a candidate.
Yet, at one of the two events, Grand Master Lu expressed his unabashed wishes that Locke be elected governor, then senator, vice president and, someday, president. Moreover, as an internal Locke campaign memo states, “The funds in question were all received at the temple. . . .”
— Did the donors and the Locke campaign comply with public disclosure rules?
The Public Disclosure Commission requires individual donors to list their residence and employer. But several of the temple donors failed to list their occupation. Others reported their address as that of the temple.
The Rev. Shi Lian Ning, a temple spokesman, acknowledged to Locke staffer John Stonham that the information was incorrect and that some of the temple donors were merely volunteers, according to an internal campaign memo from Stonham to campaign-finance chairman Bill Marler dated Feb. 20, 1997. PDC records have not yet been amended with the accurate data.
— Did the donors use their own money to make their contributions?
State law expressly forbids individuals from making contributions on behalf of another person or entity. Yet Grand Master Lu presented Locke with a donation “on behalf of everyone,” according to a feature article by the ethnic newspaper International Examiner, which covered one of the special temple events.
How much was that original donation? Did it violate the state’s legal limit for individual contributions? Was it then funneled, as in the case of the Hsi Lai fund-raiser, through straw donors?
What about the donors’ checks? Were they written from one account or many? In the same handwriting or not? Bill Marler (who was not involved in arranging the temple events) confirmed last week that the campaign possessed copies of the temple donors’ checks.
However, Marler said late last week that the campaign had decided not to provide The Times with copies of the checks or any further details about the temple events.
Those involved directly in the temple fund-raiser are reluctant to answer questions about the donations. The governor’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment. Phone calls to Locke staffers Stonham and Dia Hujar – both of whom attended at least one of the temple events – were not returned. Hand-delivered written questions to temple donors were unanswered. Rev. Ning refused to discuss the fund-raisers and declined to schedule an interview with Grand Master Lu.
According to the Feb. 20 internal campaign memo, Rev. Ning told Locke campaign staffer Stonham that all the donors had the financial wherewithal to make their contributions. But the lack of accurate information about donors’ occupations and whereabouts makes it difficult to validate Ning’s assertion.
I did track down temple donor Siu Wai Wong, a bald, robed 40-year-old priest who lives in a modest Redmond condo not far from the temple.
Wong could not remember when or by what means he had given a $1,000 contribution to Locke. He also refused to say whether he was a U.S. citizen, explaining in perfect English that his “English is not so good.”
The last question is pertinent because under campaign-finance law only U.S. citizens and legal permanent aliens can make individual contributions to local, state and federal campaigns. Wong referred all other questions to a woman he said was his niece. She wasn’t at home and has yet to respond to requests for information.
I also located Kwok Lung Chan, another $1,000 donor listed as a temple priest. Chan was genuinely unable to communicate in English and seemed perplexed at the name “Gary Locke.” She, too, referred questions to a relative who was not at home and has not responded.
At the address listed for Shu-Chuan Chen, a $2,000 donor, a young man who identified himself as Chen’s cousin said “she hasn’t lived here for three years. I’ve seen her, but I don’t know where she lives.” Calls to Chen’s reported employer, T.D. Investments of Tukwila, were not returned.
In a telephone interview, $1,000 donor Moon Chuen Lo insisted that it was his money – but could not recall when he had given the donation and whether he had given cash or a check to the campaign. Nor could he recall whether he had sent his donation to Locke by mail or handed it to the candidate at the temple.
Attempts to track down Xiao-Guang Shen of Redmond, who contributed the maximum $1,100 on July 30, 1996, failed. A search of Washington state tax-assessor records, deed-transfer records, voter-registration rolls, phone books and a state driver’s-license database turned up empty.
Locke staffer Stonham noted in his memo that he himself “was unable to locate all of the individuals” associated with the temple who had donated to the campaign.
Why did Locke and his campaign staff collect money at the temple not once, but twice? Paul Hendrie of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics says the law is “absolutely clear” that tax-exempt temples cannot hold fund-raising events or make in-kind contributions to campaigns.
“But legality aside,” Hendrie observes, “it’s unseemly in the first place to be collecting money at any house of worship. It rubs against the whole notion of separation of church and state. Common sense says this is something campaigns just shouldn’t do.”
Although an inept state campaign-finance panel absolved Locke and his campaign of any wrongdoing, the extensive public record clearly shows that the Locke campaign used Buddhist monks as conduits for laundered money.
I uploaded all the original documents I obtained in my reporting on the scandal here, including these cashier’s checks:
And this spreadsheet of temple donors:
It’s illegal to funnel campaign contributions through straw donors. It’s illegal for tax-exempt churches to hold campaign fund-raisers. It’s illegal to accept money from foreign citizens who are not permanent residents of this country. It’s illegal to file false public disclosure forms (four years after the temple fundraisers, PDC records were not amended with the Buddhist monks’ correct addresses and occupations). It’s illegal to commit perjury to cover up a political money-laundering scheme.
In a trade-dependent state such as Washington state, the incentive to engage in quid pro quos is high. At Commerce, it’s even higher. Locke’s campaign finance scandal-tainted past raise sserious issues about his judgment. His cozy relations with the Chinese government and favor-currying add even more doubt.
Locke and his cronies escaped public accountability in their home state, where the media demonstrated systemic incompetence and indifference to the law-breaking and ethical improprieties. Looks like Team Obama is betting on similar largesse from the national media.
And they know they can always fall back on the race card.