MARGARET WARNER: An ongoing controversy over the party's campaign financing methods ignited again yesterday when the Democratic National Committee said it wouldn't file a report on its pre-election contributions and expenditures. These reports from both parties were due at the Federal Election Commission last Thursday. Then this morning, DNC officials said the decision had been a mistake and promised all the relevant raw data would be released publicly soon. That wasn't enough to mollify Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour, who called a press conference today to accuse the DNC of violating the law.
HALEY BARBOUR: Bill Clinton's appointees at the Democrat National Committee have refused to file the legally required pre-election campaign finance report disclosing contributions and expenditures to the Democratic Party. The most obvious question is what are Bill Clinton and the Democrats hiding? After weeks of revelations about corrupt fund-raising practices, revelations about foreign donations, illegal fund-raising at a tax-exempt Buddhist Temple, reports of further attempts to solicit illegal contributions on Taiwan, after these revelations, the American people and the news media can certainly be expected to ask what are the Democrats hiding? This is a coldly calculated act by very sophisticated political operatives who fully understand that they will take political heat, have a political firestorm for violating disclosure laws. Clinton and his DNC appointees have decided that whatever it is their hiding is even more damning than openly breaking the law of public disclosure.
MARGARET WARNER: The flap over the FEC report is related to a larger controversy involving the recent fund-raising practices of former DNC official John Huang, a former Clinton appointee at the Commerce Department, raised 4 to 5 million dollars among contributors with mostly Asian ties. The DNC was forced to return some of the contributions. News reports had revealed they were obtained from foreign sources, which is illegal, or were laundered through unwitting front people. DNC Chairman Christopher Dodd suspended Huang from his duties and asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate. But on the NewsHour and elsewhere, Dodd insisted that the Republicans don't have a clean record on campaign contributions either.
CHRISTOPHER DODD: Here they receive $400,000 from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company based in London at the very time we're dealing with the tobacco issues, receive as a party major contributions from Japanese automobile dealers at the very time we're trying to access those markets of our own automobile producers, to be lectured by Haley Barbour on quid pro quo and political contributions is, is just remarkable to me. This is a desperate campaign in trouble with 14 days to go, have run out of issues, and so have all of a sudden decided this is a newfound issue for them when frankly their record in this area is abysmal, to put it--
MARGARET WARNER: Barber said today that Dodd's offer to release the relevant information in raw data form was not enough.
HALEY BARBOUR: In attempting to hoodwink the voters by promising to release a list of contributors or raw data, the Democrats are telling the American people it doesn't matter what the law is, we'll decide what you need to know and when you need to know it.
MARGARET WARNER: We get an explanation of all this now from a reporter who's been covering these issues, Alan Miller of the Los Angeles Times. Thanks for being with us.
ALAN MILLER, Los Angeles Times: Good evening.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain what kind of information is in these reports and what was the DNC's rationale originally for saying it had--it wasn't going to file it?
MR. MILLER: These are periodic reports filed by the various campaigns, this one due for the first two weeks of October. The reports contain information about who they raised money from, what the sums were, and how many were spent. The DNC is saying that, in fact, during this period of time, they spent no money on behalf of individual candidates or campaigns, and, therefore, they were not required to file a report. That is very much in dispute but what is not is that generally at this stage in a campaign it is customary for the campaign committees to file such a report.
MARGARET WARNER: And now, of course, today, as we just reported, Chris Dodd, the head of the DNC, is saying they will release at least all the information, all the details, the raw data, was the phrase he used. Why is that being challenged by the Republicans as not enough?
MR. MILLER: Well, the DNC says that, in fact, the same material that they're releasing today will be filed with the FEC in subsequent days. I think the concern that Republicans feel is that releasing the information as raw data, as opposed to an official report, doesn't have the same standing, the same legal standing, and perhaps doesn't require them to be as fully forthcoming as they might be if the report were being submitted to the FEC as it was, you know, expected to be last week.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, with a liability if they weren't full and factual?
MR. MILLER: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: And we should point out that information is being released right now as we speak, so we don't have that. All right, now, the second set of developments today concern John Huang. Again, we briefly described him, but why precisely did his fund-raising activities come under scrutiny originally I think by the Los Angeles Times and then by other papers? What is it--in other words, what are the allegations of wrongdoing here?
MR. MILLER: He has been involved in each of the contributions generally from Asian individuals or interests that are now in the middle of this political firestorm here a week before the election. There are various aspects to this. The DNC has acknowledged when pressed by media accounts that a number of the contributions were illegal. And, in fact, they have returned for contributions. There are others that have raised questions as to precisely who the donors were, whether perhaps funds may have been laundered through individuals, and in addition now, there are questions that have arisen as to whether any of the contributions may have impacted on, on access to high officials of the White House, as well as to the policy in the Clinton administration.
MARGARET WARNER: And explain what it is in John Huang's background that, that has put him at the center of this in terms of all of these different allegations.
MR. MILLER: John Huang was an American executive of a large Indonesian conglomerate, the Lippo Group, and he ran the U.S. operations. He came into the Clinton administration in a sensitive commerce position and was there for 18 months, uh, and subsequently left Commerce on December 3, 1995--December 4th, went to work for the Democratic National Committee as a vice chairman of their Finance Committee to do fund-raising and was, was rather spectacularly successful at raising well over 4 to 5 million dollars from primarily the Asian-American community and Asian donors. And again each of these contributions now, including contributions from the Lippo Group and those associated with the Lippo Group that he had previously worked for, that are in question, are contributions that he solicited.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, today he was, again, as we've reported, in giving a deposition in sort of an unrelated civil suit. What's that about in simplest terms? What was he being deposed about today?
MR. MILLER: This is a suit that is brought by an attorney who was a--runs a conservative watchdog group. He's a longtime backer of Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole. He has been seeking for the past couple of years to obtain documents on Commerce trade missions that he believes will show--maintains will show that among the beneficiaries of the missions were patrons of the Democratic National Committee, and he had motions pending for documents that he has not been able to obtain or maintains the Commerce Department has not been forthcoming was and was able to bring Huang in to ask him questions as a former Commerce employee who may have had, at least allegedly had, some involvement with these trade missions.
MARGARET WARNER: And this was--he's focusing attention on the Commerce Department under, uh, the late Ron Brown?
MR. MILLER: That's correct, the Ron Brown who had been the chairman of the Democratic National Committee prior to taking that position in the Clinton administration.
MARGARET WARNER: And when you say that they have--he has suspicions or allegations that donors were beneficiaries, meaning what, what do you mean beneficiaries of trade missions?
MR. MILLER: Well, that perhaps they received special treatment that beint contributors gave them access or ability to go on these trips which were valuable for the companies, uh, that others may not have had. This is what--this has been at the forefront of his legal efforts.
MARGARET WARNER: I see. Now as a reporter--what would you say are the major unanswered questions about this whole kind of miasma of--I mean, to an outsider may appear very unrelated?
MR. MILLER: Well, there's been--obviously been a great deal of focus on John Huang. I think in recent days we've seen reporting in the Los Angeles Times, as well as in other publications now, that raised some broader questions and seem to involve other players who had been, uh, involved with President Clinton in Arkansas and subsequently in one capacity or another here in Washington. I think the broadest question of course is whether foreign money was raised illegally, whether foreign money may have been laundered through legal residents or citizens here in the U.S.. I think there are now questions as to whether John Huang--what precisely he did at Commerce and whether, in fact, he was not involved in any trade matters that may have concerned Indonesia or his former employer, and ultimately, uh, questions as to whether any of this had any impact on policy in the Clinton administration involving Indonesia and Taiwan specifically.
MARGARET WARNER: And you just raised Taiwan. Where does Taiwan fit into this, because the early allegations involving Huang's contributions and some of the ones you all wrote about focused on Indonesian-Americans, or legal residents, and I think there were some involving South Korea where does Taiwan fit in.
MR. MILLER: Well, we now have--we now know that the Justice Department is investigating allegations that an attorney named James Wood, who was a Clinton appointee serving as a kind of emissary to Taiwan--the government, U.S. Government emissary here in Washington, pressured businesses in Taiwan to make contributions. That matters is under investigation. At the same time he was there when John Huang was there. John Huang made trips there, several trips there when he was in Commerce. He made additional trips there when he was raising money for the DNC, purportedly to raise money from U.S. residents--and other interests there that were legal. But--there are also reports--they're unverified from media in Taiwan that the business arm of the ruling party there made an offer of $15 million to benefit the Clinton campaign.
MARGARET WARNER: And of course, we should point out all of this would be illegal. Foreign money is not allowed to be donated to political parties here, is that right?
MR. MILLER: That's correct. Subsidiaries of foreign corporations can contribute if they've generated the revenue in the U.S., and as far as individual donors, they must be legal residents or citizens to contribute.
MARGARET WARNER: And so are there any--you mentioned one Justice Department investigation of the, um, matter involving Taiwan--are there any other official investigations of any of these matters going on right now?
MR. MILLER: Well, the Federal Election Commission is investigating a number of the contributions that we've touched on, and at the request of the Democratic National Committee.
MARGARET WARNER: And are there--is there anything going on on Capitol Hill over this?
MR. MILLER: There's been a request just today from several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, for an independent counsel to look into a number of these matters.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much.
MR. MILLER: Thank you.