Hsu Cast Wide Net For Clinton Donors
Sunday, September 16, 2007
To raise $850,000 for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign in just eight months, Norman Hsu tapped an eclectic group of donors that included wealthy investors in his apparel ventures, hotel shopkeepers, a 96-year-old in a Florida retirement home and an auto-body worker who mistakenly thought he would get a tax break for his political generosity.
The Clinton campaign has not yet released any information about the 260 donors whose contributions it is now refunding because they were credited to the prodigious fundraising of the former fugitive, but a detailed analysis of donors Hsu brought to Clinton shows that he tapped many Asian American donors in California and New York, including complete strangers as well as his relatives. He also raised political funds from people who had already invested large sums in his private business ventures.
Some donors among the nearly 100 identified this week said they never met Hsu and did not know that their donations had been credited to his fundraising. Others had trouble explaining why they gave the funds to Clinton or could not recall the circumstances in which they met Hsu.
"He called me and asked me if I'd give $1,000. . . . I don't know how you'd say we struck up a relationship. I just knew him," said Henry Rosenberg, a New York City lawyer. Asked if he wanted Clinton, New York's junior senator, to be the next president, Rosenberg said: "I don't know. He just asked me to do it, and I did."
Nay Oo, another Clinton donor for whom Hsu claimed credit, was listed in the candidate's fundraising reports with an address in Daly City, Calif. The home's owner, Ellen Yee, said Oo used to rent a room in the house but hadn't lived there for years. A man who returned a call to Oo's phone and identified himself as Oo said he works in an auto-body shop and does not know Hsu. He said he donated $250 to Clinton at the request of a landlord. "I thought it was going to be a tax write-off," he said.
The case of the mysterious bundler has become a major embarrassment for Clinton and an echo of the campaign finance scandals that surrounded her husband's presidency in the 1990s. The campaign's decision to return the money associated with Hsu followed his recent arrest on charges of trying to outrun a 15-year-old warrant, but many questions remain about Hsu's fundraising tactics, the origin of the funds and whether they were all given legally.
The names of Clinton donors for whom Hsu claimed credit were confirmed through a computer analysis of donations as well interviews with several people familiar with Hsu's fundraising. None of the donors connected to him has been accused of doing anything wrong.
Robert H. Emmers, a Los Angeles publicist hired by Hsu's attorney, said Hsu -- who now sits in a Colorado jail cell -- is not responding to any of the allegations leveled against him. "There's a lot of speculation out there," Emmers said. "Mr. Hsu is not in a position to defend himself right now, so that needs to be taken into account."
In just four years before being taken into custody, Hsu became a top political fundraiser. Not only was he among the top 15 "bundlers" nationwide for the Clinton presidential campaign, but he also helped fund the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, various congressional and Senate candidates, and the leadership committees for other presidential candidates such as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).
His intensive fundraising brought him close to their campaigns, which showered him with dinner invitations and opportunities to get his picture snapped with the politicians -- contacts that some businessmen said lent credibility to Hsu's efforts to sell investors on his clothing ventures.
But his pursuit of political and business funds at the same time -- from many of the same people -- leaves unclear which was the end and which was the means. Was Hsu hoping to leverage his political affiliations to boost the credibility of his business? Or did he intend the more than $2 million he bundled in political donations in four years to curry favor for some as-yet-undetermined goal?
"Never once, that I ever came across, did he seem to have a particular policy or issue agenda," said Hassan Nemazee, one of Clinton's top New York fundraisers. "The only thing he ever seemed to want was to get his photo taken."