Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Follow the Money (Clinton Campaign Edition)

The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins has a fascinating report in today's paper that suggests the Clinton campaign machine is--0nce again--raking in some serious cash from rather unusual sources.

Mr. Mullins investigative piece focuses on a "tiny, lime-green bungalow" in Daly City, California, which is home for the Paws, a Chinese-American family. According to campaign donation records, six members of the Paw family have donated $45,000 to Mrs. Clinton since 1995, and given a total of $200,000 to Democratic candidates during the same period. That places the Paws among the Top 5 donors to the Clinton campaign, topping even the Maloof family of Las Vegas, which owns the Palms Casino and the Sacramento Kings basketball team, among other holdings.

More impressively, the Paws have apparently become major political donors without the wealth of the Maloof family, or the hedge fund and real estate tycoons who make up the rest of Mrs. Cllinton's Top 5. Public records reviewed by the Journal show that the Paws own a small gift shop. Additionally, William Paw, the family patriarch, works as a letter carrier, earning about $49,000 a year. His wife, Alice, is a homemaker. The couple's three grown children have jobs ranging from account manager at a software company, to school attendance "liaison" and mutual fund executive.

And, if you don't find that sort of financial acumen intriguing, here's another angle that raises more suspicions:

The Paws' political donations closely track donations made by Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman in the apparel industry who once listed the Paw home as his address, according to public records. Mr. Hsu is one of the top fund-raisers for Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign. He has hosted or co-hosted some of her most prominent money-raising events.

People who answered the phone and the door at the Paws' residence declined requests for comment last week. In an email last night, one of the Paws' sons, Winkle, said he had sometimes been asked by Mr. Hsu to make contributions, and sometimes he himself had asked family members to donate. But he added: "I have been fortunate in my investments and all of my contributions have been my money."

That's fine and dandy, but it doesn't explain why Mr. Hsu (a multi-millionaire who lives in New York) once listed the Paw home as his address, according to other public records reviewed by the WSJ. However, the paper's reporting did raise the ire of Mr. Hsu, his attorney, and a spokesman for the Clinton campaign:

Mr. Hsu, in an email last night wrote: "I have NEVER asked a single favor from any politician or any charity group. If I am NOT asking favors, why do I have to cheat...I've asked friends and colleagues of mine to give money out of their own pockets and sometimes they have agreed."

Lawrence Barcella, a Washington attorney representing Mr. Hsu, said in a separate email: "You are barking up the wrong tree. There is no factual support for this story and if Mr. Hsu's name was Smith or Jones, I don't believe it would be a story." He didn't elaborate.

A Clinton campaign spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said in an email: "Norman Hsu is a longtime and generous supporter of the Democratic party and its candidates, including Senator Clinton. During Mr. Hsu's many years of active participation in the political process, there has been no question about his integrity or his commitment to playing by the rules, and we have absolutely no reason to call his contributions into question."

A former official with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) told the Journal that the unusual two-year pattern of donations "justifies a probe of possible violations of campaign-finance law, which forbid one person from reimbursing another to make contributions."

Officially, there are no records that Mr. Hsu reimbursed the Paws for their donations to the Democratic Party, and no indication that Mrs. Clinton ever met members of the family. As the Journal observes, in some cases the candidates are unaware of payments made on their behalf.

But there are compelling reasons for the FEC to take a look at these donations. Beyond the questions of how a middle-class family can make such large contributions--and why they follow the pattern of Mr. Hsu, there's the issue why the Paws suddenly became political activists. According to the Journal, the family never made a campaign contribution until the 2004 presidential election, when they began givign to John Kerry, and their donations correlated to those of Mr. Hsu.

Finally, the Journal doesn't raise another issue that bears scrutiny: is there any connection between this fund-raising activity and the infamous "PRC connection" highlighted in Year of the Rat, by Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II. Their book details the sordid relationship between the Clinton-Gore campaign and Chinese intelligence operatives, and others with ties to the People's Liberation Army. It was that relationship that brokered thousands of dollars in campaign contributions; meanwhile, senior administration officials--including President Clinton--played host to at least one PLA intelligence officer, along with Chinese arms merchants and others eager to gain political influence (and access to U.S. technology).

At this point, the only thing that the Paws have in common with those former Clinton donors is their ethnic Chinese background. But their sudden rise to prominence as donors to Mrs. Clinton--and other Democrats--certainly merits an FEC inquiry. It would also be helpful to know if the Paws (and Mr. Hsu) ever crossed paths with John Huang, Johnny Chung and other Chinese-Americans who raised money for the Clintons a decade ago. This has nothing to do with race; it has everything to do with how campaign money is raised, and whether any laws were broken.

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