TOPICS > Politics

Under the Influence

October 21, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: The issue of campaign finance abuses and reform has suddenly emerged as an issue in the presidential campaign. It was triggered last week by press disclosures that the Democratic National Committee had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy Indonesian families and an Indonesian conglomerate called the Lippo Group. And earlier the DNC returned a $250,000 contribution improperly donated by a South Korean company. Republicans have demanded an investigation into whether the administration’s export and trade policies were manipulated to benefit the foreign contributors.

The Democratic National Committee responded to the charges by suspending the DNC official who has raised most of the questioned contributions from Asians and Asian companies, former Commerce Department official John Wong, who once worked for the Lippo Group. But the Democrats have also accused Dole and the Republicans of hypocrisy. They note that the vice chairman of Dole’s Finance Committee during the primary season was a non-citizen and they note that other Dole Finance Committee members have run afoul of the law for their fund-raising methods.

The dispute has focused renewed attention on the entire phenomenon of so-called “soft money,” donations to political parties and House and Senate Committees that aren’t limited under federal law. But President Clinton has not spoken on the issue. Yesterday, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta was repeatedly asked why the President hasn’t.

SPOKESMAN: Why doesn’t the President speak out and condemn what has been illegal fund-raising by the Democratic Party?

LEON PANETTA, White House Chief of Staff: (NBC News – Meet the Press) Well, the reality is that the President has said, look, uh, we are obviously raising millions of dollars, just like the Republicans are raising millions of dollars. Democrats are raising that kind of money. Republicans are raising that kind of money. The reality is that under the rules you can take money from foreign subsidiaries of, of corporations, or domestic United States subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

That’s, that’s legal under the law. About 1 percent of these are called into question. The President has said we are–what we really need to do in order to deal with these kinds of problems–because you can’t do a background check on everybody who gives you a contribution, you can’t go after everybody’s background in terms of determining when you’re raising millions of dollars what’s involved here. The answer to this ultimately is campaign finance reform.

MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, campaigning in New Hampshire, Bob Dole unveiled a campaign finance proposal of his own.

SEN. BOB DOLE: And if you’re not eligible to vote in America, you shouldn’t contribute to politicians in America. That’s No. 1. (applause) No. 2, abolish what they call soft money. No donations from corporations or unions to federal candidates or to parties to influence federal elections. No. 3, no American should be compelled against his will to give up a portion of his weekly paycheck to finance an organization’s political agenda. That will happen. And No. 4, this would apply to all of us, curtail the influence of Political Action Committees, and let the commission determine the best way to limit the effect of PAC’s on the political process.

MARGARET WARNER: Democrats responded by accusing Dole of killing or delaying campaign finance reform legislation several times while he was in the Senate, most recently, they said, this past summer on a bipartisan proposal by Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Russell Feingold. That bill would sharply limit PAC contributions and soft money donations to political parties. The bill finally died in the Senate two weeks after Dole left.

MARGARET WARNER: Now the two party chairmen, Haley Barbour, head of the Republican National Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, the co-chairman of the Democrat National Committee. Welcome, gentlemen. Mr. Barbour, what, if anything, illegal have the Democrats done?

HALEY BARBOUR, Chair, Republican National Committee: (Washington, D.C.) Well, it appears that they’ve not only skirted the law, but they’ve broken the law by soliciting through a real unheard of major practice of going out and soliciting foreign contributions, but that they have received contributions from a couple who lived in the United States for a brief period of time and gave $427,000, of which nearly $300,000 was given while they were not living in the United States, while they were living in Indonesia.

They have had a pattern and practice, Margaret, of using administration officials. Let me just quote David Broder of the Washington Post; the dean of Washington political journalists. I think when you have the involvement with official appointments to the Commerce Department post, we have meetings with the President, you’re dealing with something else. What drives me crazy is that these folks just seem to think, so what?

This is the most morally lax standard I have ever seen imposed on an administration by its own people, and they have a practice of raising money that’s not legal to accept. We don’t–campaign finance reform has nothing to do with this. A lot of this is illegal under the law today if, in fact, it is true this couple contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars when they were not living–and at this Buddhist temple in California, you had people who were given money and then asked to write a check back, that they were not giving their own money–this is against the law today, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Dodd, Sen. Dodd, your response on that.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, Chair, Democratic National Committee: (New York) Well, this–you talk about desperation here, fourteen, fifteen days to go before the election, and Bob Dole has discovered campaign finance reform as an issue. It’s estimated by Common Cause that he has raised, aside from running for the presidency, $100 million over his career as United States Senator, been called by Fred Wertheimer, the former head of Common Cause, the single biggest obstacle to campaign finance reform in the last decade, now announcing all of a sudden on this sort of political deathbed conversion that he’s all of a sudden for campaign finance reform. Even John McCain, one of his top advisers, offered campaign finance reform in this Congress. Everyone but one Democrat in the Senate supported John McCain’s bill.

Only about eight Republicans did, and Bob Dole opposed it. We could have had campaign finance reform in this–in this Congress. So let’s–let’s look through the transparency of this all of a sudden newfound concern about the issues. Secondly, we’re looking at a party that has already received $2.4 million in the last year and a half from foreign companies through illegal means, as far as I know.

MARGARET WARNER: Through legal or illegal?

SEN. DODD: Illegal as far as I know, because if it’s a U.S. subsidiary of a foreign corporation, as long as the dollars are coming from U.S. activities, then that’s under the present law legal. The Ryadi family, which I presume Haley is talking about, supported Bob Dole financially in his ’88 race for the presidency.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Senator, let me just ask you–and then I want to turn the tables on the Republicans. Could you answer Mr. Barbour’s charges, that, in fact, this one Indonesian couple were not even still U.S. residents when a lot of this money came into your party.

SEN. DODD: Well, let me say first of all, we as a party now have asked the Federal Elections Commission to examine all of this and to do it on an expedited fashion. The Republicans have not made a similar request. So they’ll look at all of this and go through each one of these contributions. If any one of them are wrong, the money goes back, we’ll do whatever has to be done here. As far as we know–and I’m not an expert in the law–I don’t claim to be here, but as far as I know, if a person is a permanent resident of the United States, they pay taxes here, they’ve achieved that status, then under the law, they can make campaign contributions.

The fact that they’re not exactly residing at that particular moment they make a contribution, as far as I know, is not illegal. Now, there are lawyers who will argue about this, and you could make a case that you want to change the law, but under the law, the Republicans have received a lot of money under this means, as well as Democrats. It’s legal. Now Jack Kemp is arguing with Bob Dole over whether or not they want to change the law to the extent he’s recommended.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get–let me get Mr. Barbour back in here. Is it possible, Mr. Barbour, that, in fact, all of these different instances were entirely legal?

MR. BARBOUR: Well, it’s possible that I’m going to lose 30 pounds between now and Thanksgiving, Margaret, but, uh, but it’s highly unlikely. What we have here is a pattern and practice. And in Indonesia, the common practice is they pay off, that this is what they do. And let me just show you what’s going on here. You have–here’s a chart. You have the Werthen Bank, which was owned at one point by this family in Indonesia. They give $3 ½ million in loans to Clinton in 1992, when his campaign is in the, in the very lowest days of Genifer Flowers, draft-dodging charges, lowest point, this, this group comes through with $3 ½ million. They’ve contributed over $1 million. They’ve got this gardener, you know, who contributes four hundred some thousand dollars; at the Buddhist temple, where people take a vow of poverty, they say these people have contributed $5,000 each.

That’s the quid. What’s bad is the quo. The quo is billions, F-16 fighters for Indonesia; the quo is a billion dollars of business contracts for the cronies of all of these people; the quo is the United States turns its back on awful human rights abuses, genocide in East Timor when–

SEN. DODD: Well, Margaret–

MR. BARBOUR: When Bill Clinton was running for President, when Bill Clinton was running for President, he said, George Bush is terrible for not having done something about what the Indonesians were doing for East Timor. Now that all these millions have gone through, Mickey Kantor stops the investigation of human rights abuses in East Timor, which has been taken over, invaded, and captured by Indonesia, and a third of the population, 95 percent Roman Catholic population, has been exterminated–


MR. BARBOUR: –by these people to the point that the Nobel Peace Prize this year was given to people in East Timor for standing up to what the Clinton administration is turning its back on.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Sen. Dodd, are–was there a quo here, as Mr. Barbour puts it?

SEN. DODD: Not at all. In fact, Bob Dole is–when the legislation came up on human rights in Indonesia, Bob Dole voted against it. Russ Feingold offered the amendment. Bob Dole all of a sudden, the Republicans claim–their newfound interest in human rights is rather remarkable, quite stunning, in my view. Here, they received $400,000 from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company based in London at the very time we’re dealing with the tobacco issue, receive as a party major contributions from Japan automobile dealers at the very time we’re trying to access those markets with our own automobile producers, to be lectured by Haley Barbour on quid pro quo and political contributions is, is just remarkable to me.

I’m willing to–in fact, supported the McCain bill. The President supported John McCain’s bill. The President shook Newt Gingrich’s hand in New Hampshire on campaign finance reform. The President appointed the commissioners which Newt Gingrich never did to deal with campaign finance reform. This is a desperate campaign, in trouble with 14 days to go, have run out of issues, and so all of a sudden decided this is a newfound issue for them, when frankly their record in this area is abysmal, to put it at best.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Barbour, could you respond to the bill of particulars now about the Republican Party that Sen. Dodd just laid out?

MR. BARBOUR: Well, let me say–

SEN. DODD: And let me add, by the way, when Newt Gingrich in 1990 speaks at GOPAC fund-raisers held at the Saudi Arabian Embassy and the Russian Embassy, I don’t recall the Republican Party being outraged over the Speaker or the likely Speaker of the House all of a sudden engaging in that practice.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let me get Mr. Barbour to respond to those.

MR. BARBOUR: Well, Margaret, your first question was the right question. What is illegal about this? The fact of the matter is, this has nothing to do with campaign finance reform. This is against the law now. This is against the law today. There’s no–there’s no need to change the law to make it illegal for foreigners to give in American elections. Yet, the Democratic National Committee through a deputy Democratic finance chairman, who had been at the height of being an insider on trade at the Department of Commerce, they have a program to go out and solicit foreign contributions. They say he’s raised $5 million.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. But, Mr. Barbour–

SEN. DODD: Margaret, if I could–

MR. BARBOUR: Mrs. Ryadi–

SEN. DODD: –just say right here–

MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen, gentlemen.

SEN. DODD: –here you’ve got Mr. Fireman, who’s paying $6 million in fines for laundering money in Hong Kong.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator, we’re just confusing our viewers. We’re confusing our viewers. They don’t know who Mr. Fireman is. Let me get Mr. Barbour.

SEN. DODD: Well, tell ’em who he is.

MARGARET WARNER: Would you please respond, just as I asked Sen. Dodd to, to the charges he made about the Republican Party, not by saying the Democrats have done the same thing, but what about the charges that he just made, that the Republicans have also raised a lot of money from foreign-related sources?

MR. BARBOUR: The Republicans have not raised money from foreign corporations that’s against the law. Mrs. Ryadi, the family that gave over $1 million through their business interest to Bill Clinton, bought a $1,000 ticket to a Dole fund-raiser nine years ago. We reported it. It was perfectly legal. They were living in the country, and they want–you know, Margaret, you made the point, Chris is trying to confuse your viewers. They want to get off the point here. The Republicans didn’t come up with this story. The New York Times came up with this story, the Wall Street Journal came up with this story. We didn’t know anything about it. We have learned since then that our Republican Governors Association sold a table at a dinner a couple of years ago to a Canadian company. When it came to their attention, the Republican governors gave it back, to which I say, if the Democratic governors did what our governors do and abided by the federal law, we’d know if they’d done that or not. Do I think it’s wrong if one guy slips through, or five guys slip through in ten years? But this is a pattern where they have a practice of soliciting these contributions, and the people giving the money have good reason to believe they’re getting something in return: F-16’s, East Timor, business deals in China. And this is the way they do business in Indonesia. We want to make sure it never becomes the way we do business in the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Dodd, do you want to respond to that?

SEN. DODD: Well, again, I mean, it’s here. Why doesn’t the Republican Party do what we’ve done? We’ve asked the FEC, the Federal Elections Commission, the agency that’s responsible for monitoring campaign financing, to open up its books, as we have, and go through them. The allegations affect 1 percent or less of all the campaign contributions. If they find additional ones, if there are problems here, then it certainly ought to be brought to the people’s attention, and deal with it accordingly. Haley’s acting as if he’s judge and jury on these matters. The allegations have been made. No one has proved it. The only proven allegation involves the vice finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Fireman, who solicited and laundered $69,000 from Hong Kong, for which he has paid a $6 million fine and is likely going to do six months in jail. Now that’s the vice chairman of the Dole presidential race. No allegations like that have been proven against anyone on the Democratic side. We have returned the dollars that we’ve discovered that they were improperly collected, and we’ve invited the Federal Elections Commission to go through all of our books. I would like to know whether or not Haley was willing to subject the entire, the contributions to the Republican National Committee through similar scrutiny by the FEC, so both sides will be subjected to that kind of investigation.

MR. BARBOUR: Well, as Chris–

MARGARET WARNER: What about that, Mr. Barbour?

MR. BARBOUR: Well, as Chris knows, Margaret, we file our report with the FEC every month.

SEN. DODD: Well, we do as well.

MR. BARBOUR: And we open up all of our contributions. The FEC is not only welcome, they perpetually, continuously audit our books. We file with them like the Republican Governors Association, not required by law; the Democrat governors refuse to do that. But, look., Chris Dodd and I are friends, and he has made and earned, in my opinion, a good reputation in this city and in this country as an honorable person who I think is above a lot of what’s been going on. But I’ll tell you, I wish Chris would make this John Wang and these people, make ’em come forward and come clean. There’s not anybody who works here, Margaret, that we won’t make available. But they’ve got somebody that they’re hiding because he’s been the one that’s running this. And I wish that the Democrats, I wish my friend, Chris Dodd, would say we’re going to cut you loose, John; now go out there and tell the truth. That’s all people have a right to expect.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Dodd, you suggested yesterday that John Wang, who is the DNC official who raised a lot of this money from Asian sources, would be available to reporters, but then there seemed to be a change in that. Is he going to be able to answer questions?

SEN. DODD: I’d say first of all, Margaret, I found it convenient Haley did not really answer the question I raised with him here. Of course, the FEC goes over books. We have asked the FEC to do an expedited examination of these alleged contributions. All I’m suggesting is that the Republicans submit themselves to the similar expedited investigation that goes beyond the reporting requirements every three or four or five months, the next one coming after the election, so it’ll be of little use to anybody if it occurs in December or January. Putting that issue aside, and Haley’s reluctance to respond, with Mr. Wang, I’ve said, look, if he wants to talk to the press, that’s his business. Our policy, as it is at the Republican National Committee, is to make people like myself and our press people available to respond to questions.


SEN. DODD: We do not, as a practice, have everyone in the Democratic National Committee staff, nor the Republican National Committee staff, uh, subject themselves to press conferences. Mr. Wang has not been relieved of his duties. He’s still on the payroll of the Democrat National Committee. He’s now focusing his attention on the expedited FEC investigation, so that they can ask him questions, and he will be available to all of them at their request at a moment’s notice. But if he wants to talk to the press, that’s his business.


SEN. DODD: Don’t have a gag rule on him.

MARGARET WARNER: Before we go, let me ask you each, very briefly, Mr. Barbour, do you think this issue is helping Bob Dole?

MR. BARBOUR: Well, it’s bad for the country. I don’t know whose vote it’s going to change. It’s got to be depressing to people to see this kind of stuff going on in American politics, with it obviously being supported and promoted by the President of the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Sen. Dodd. Do you think it’s having an impact on the presidential race?

SEN. DODD: I don’t know. But I would tell you, I always find it disturbing, that here we are days away from an election, and all this great interest that he had during the year when we should be dealing with these issues, the very same people who call for these matters, where were they when they had an opportunity to do something about it. That’s what I find frustrating.


SEN. DODD: And many of us have wanted to see campaign finance reform for years, but when the votes are there, and we ask for their support, they don’t seem to show up.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both.

MR. BARBOUR: Margaret, can I just–one point–


MR. BARBOUR: –so it won’t be an issue. We’d love to have the FEC come over here for an expedited or any other kind of audit.

SEN. DODD: Good.

MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Great, gentlemen. We’ll leave it there. Thank you.