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Campaign Fund-Raising Prober Finds the Microscope Trained on Him

By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18 1997; Page A08

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House committee that is investigating Clinton reelection campaign fund-raising, finds himself under scrutiny.

Burton's own fund-raising practices have been the subject of recent critical news accounts, and a federal grand jury is investigating allegations that the congressman last year threatened a lobbyist for the government of Pakistan when he couldn't fulfill a promise to raise $5,000 for Burton from Pakistani Americans.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Justice Department is seeking to question Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, about the case.

Last week, two newspapers – Roll Call and the Hill – reported instances in which Burton helped campaign donors from his seat on the House International Relations Committee.

Roll Call reported that he called a meeting with an Education Department official last year to aid a contributor who owned a medical school in the Caribbean and several months later asked the donor whether his daughter could apply to an affiliated veterinary school.

The Hill story said Burton defended the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire while accepting donations and speaking fees from Mobutu lobbyists.

Burton declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, Kevin Binger, said Burton had done nothing wrong. "We knew that when Chairman Burton was named to head this investigation that he would be subject to a higher level of scrutiny. That's fine," Binger said. "We knew when this started that the Democratic Party would be trying to dredge up and filter out scurrilous little pieces of information."

A common denominator in the stories has been Burton's ability, as a member of the foreign affairs panel, to raise money from Americans and permanent resident immigrants with close ties to foreign countries. "When you're a member of the International Relations Committee you tend to raise money from ethnic groups, but they are Americans," Binger said. "The important thing is that you be consistent and do the right thing."

Burton has been what Binger terms "fervently anti-communist" his entire career in Congress, which his fund-raising reflects. His donor lists have been filled with the names of anti-Castro Cubans, and Americans or permanent residents from Taiwan and Pakistan. In the last election cycle, for example, Burton received more donations from Florida, mostly from Cuban Americans, than he did from his home state of Indiana.

Binger said it was Burton's support of anti-communist rebels in Angola that caused him to back Mobutu even after he visited the strongman's gold-plated palace on a congressional trip for the Africa subcommittee in 1989.

The Hill reported that Burton inserted into the Congressional Record speeches of praise for Mobutu in 1989 and 1990, during a period when two Mobutu backers were giving him several thousand dollars in campaign donations. One, Edward van Kloberg III, paid him $4,000 for three speaking appearances. In one election cycle, van Kloberg gave Burton $500 more than the legal limit, which Burton returned after the newspaper inquiry. In 1995, Burton urged the State Department to give Mobutu a visa, after another lobbyist, and donor, asked a Burton aide for help.

Van Kloberg said in an interview that several representatives praised Zaire in congressional speeches in 1989 and 1990 because multinational organizations said Zaire had improved its human rights and economic record. He said he gave donations and paid speaking fees to several House members.

Binger said the donations and speaking fees weren't the reason Burton supported Mobutu. He said that Burton had criticized Mobutu's wealth and joined other members of Congress in pressing for free elections in Zaire.

Last August, as chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Burton took the lead in setting up a meeting in which he and five other House members – four of them Democrats – assisted Robert Ross, founder of a medical school on Dominica. Ross made contributions to Burton and to four of the other members involved in the meeting.

They asked Assistant Secretary of Education David Longanecker to give the island of Dominica more time to respond to a critical report about its accrediting standards, which applied to Ross's school. Without the extension, which was granted, financial aid to U.S. students there would have been in jeopardy.

According to Roll Call, Burton asked Ross early this year if his daughter could apply to Ross's veterinary school on nearby St. Kitts. The newspaper cited a letter to Burton in which Ross said he was sure Burton's daughter would be "a welcome addition to our student body" and that an application would be reviewed "expeditiously." Ross said he had asked the school's president, Neal Simon, to find a job in St. Kitts for Burton's son-in-law, a physician.

Simon, who attended the meeting with Longanecker, said in an interview that all applications to the medical or veterinary schools are reviewed quickly. He said he would gladly help find a job for any physician who wanted to work on the island. Burton's daughter has not applied to the school, Burton's spokesman Binger said.

Longanecker said in an interview last week that he didn't feel particularly pressured. "One man's pressure is another's legitimate inquiry," he said. "This was nothing out of the ordinary."

He said the only thing unusual about the meeting was the number of members who attended. He said the Education Department likely will approve the standards Dominica uses to accredit institutions.

Ross, his wife and son, and/or Simon made donations to Reps. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y), Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and David Funderburk (R-N.C.), who also attended the meeting with Longanecker.

Some of the members said they attended the meeting because Ross or his lobbyist asked them to. They were also concerned that students from their state might lose financial aid. Binger said, "If Indiana students were not affected, I don't think he [Burton] would have gone to the trouble to have arranged a meeting."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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