[Guest editorial by Joe Shea, Editor-In-Chief of the American Reporter, an Internet newspaper and wire service]
About two months
ago, the New York Times published a Cybertimes article on
campaign finance reform tools available on the Net. One was FEC-Info, which allows users to
select campaign contributions to Federal candidates and committees
according to the zip code where they originated. I entered my Southern
California zip (90028) and one contribution stood out: $150,000 to the
Democratic National Committee from Panda Estates Investments, Inc. Lacking
resources to do more research, I tried to find other writers to work on it,
but soon had to let the story slide.
Then, in the April 23 Los Angeles Times -- topped by a banner headline across the the top of page 3 -- came a story that California State Treasurer Matt Fong received $100,000 from people associated with Panda Estates Investments, as large as any other donations he'd received. Newsweek and federal investigators say it came from sources in mainland China -- possibly the Chinese government.
Fong returned the money and issued a statement saying that he wanted "...absolutely no cloud, no suspicion about by campaign conduct..." It was a politician's textbook denial of guilt.
There are several interesting things about this incident. First is that Fong is Republican; since Bob Woodward of the Washington Post first revealed that the Chinese Embassy in Washington had routed campaign funds to the DNC, the Chinese Connection has been an embarassment for Democrats only.
Now, there's no evidence that Fong knew that the money (apparently) came from mainland China, just as there's no proof that the Demos, who accumulated a quarter-million dollars from the same contributors, knew who really was writing their fat checks. Yet because Fong is headed for a U.S. Senate campaign next year, I have to wonder: were the secretive contributors interested in Fong the State Treasurer, or in Fong, possible Senator?
Those who follow the intelligence game know how such things might work.
Being a solid Republican and a patriotic American, you immediately order the businessman from your office, but he has just enough time to add something else. That $100,000 you got in your race for State Treasurer came from Chinese "friends," too. Now he has your attention. Look at it pragmatically, he says: Who knows where your opponent's money comes from? You won't win unless you take this check. And there's always the chance, he hints, that if you don't, your jilted "friends" will reveal their earlier gifts.
How many of our elected officials have already been compromised in such a way? When do we start to clean up politics so that honest, unbeholden candidates can run for office? Will it be before a recipient of such funds stands up to greet his foreign benefactors in the Oval Office -- or has that already happened?
No one knows at the moment, but it appears that the Chinese involvement with American politics wasn't limited to the last election. According to today's Washington Post (April 25), the FBI has obtained substantial evidence that top Chinese officials approved plans in 1995 to attempt to illegally buy influence with American politicians using laundered money, and that the program is still active.
When I was searching for similar contributions in 1989, I found that some $400,000 was given to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley on March 17, 1986 by executives of a host of Japanese electronics, banking, auto and trading firms. And suspiciously, City Attorney James Hahn refused to investigate.
But except for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner -- whose reporters also broke the story of payments to Bradley from a Chinese bank that had loaned him money and got big city deposits soon afterwards -- the L.A. newspapers would not touch it. All the Japanese money that newspapers take from advertising spoke far louder than the vast flow of illegal campaign contributions.
American newspapers these days are stuffed to the gills with advertising for Japanese electronics and automobiles, as well as goods from countries all over the world. Those ads should not blind publishers and editors to their obligations to their country, their readers and the truth. Do we only report on foreign scandals that don't embarass advertisers? It sometimes appears so.
If a newspaper fails to report on campaign gifts from questionable foreign sources because it will imperil those ads, they are doing their share to wreck the faith of this country in what newspapers ought to stand for -- a last, incorruptible and inconquerable voice of the American spirit. And so far, to their shame, they are failing badly.
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