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Huang Linked to Fund-Raising at Commerce

By Glenn F. Bunting and Alan C. Miller
Los Angeles Times
Sunday, May 25, 1997; Page A17

With the assistance of the Democratic Party, Clinton administration appointee John Huang participated in raising political donations in 1995 while serving as a government official who was prohibited by law from soliciting campaign funds, according to newly available records and interviews.

Huang, the central figure in Justice Department and congressional investigations into campaign finance abuses, helped generate at least $52,000 from four Asian American donors in the months before he left the Commerce Department to become a full-time fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee.

On at least three occasions, the DNC listed Huang's wife, Jane, as the "solicitor" for large donations even though party officials recalled that she had no involvement in fund-raising. DNC officials now acknowledge that Jane Huang's name appears on the donor tracking forms because it would have been an admission of wrongdoing to credit the contributions to John Huang, a deputy assistant commerce secretary at the time.

"They can't say it was John Huang [soliciting funds] while he was at Commerce," said a former top DNC officer. "What happened is that they got Huang involved [and] they had to cover it."

Huang, a resident of Glendale, Calif., has maintained through his lawyers that he did nothing improper. One of his Washington attorneys, Ty Cobb, said Huang "conducted himself appropriately at the Commerce Department. I'm not in a position to comment beyond that."

A source close to Huang said he did not direct anyone at the DNC to attribute the donations to his wife. The source added that, by referring potential donors to the DNC, Huang did not violate laws that prevented him from directly soliciting contributions.

However, the links between Huang and the contributions are extensive. The four donors in question were Huang associates from Asian business circles. While at the Commerce Department, he was in contact with at least three of them as they were giving the money. Moreover, after he moved to the DNC as finance vice chairman, he was the fund-raiser credited with all of their subsequent donations.

Mi R. Ahn, one of the donors, said Huang encouraged her to financially support the Democratic Party during her telephone conversations with him in his Commerce Department office during the spring and summer of 1995.

"He said, `With the elections coming up, it would be helpful if you get more involved,' " recalled Ahn, president of Pan Metal Corp. in Los Angeles, in a telephone interview. "He said to continue to be supportive."

A DNC staff member in California called her to arrange the donation, Ahn said. Her subsequent $10,000 check was credited as having been solicited by Jane Huang after it arrived.

The other donors are reportedly in Indonesia and could not be reached for comment.

The donations raise further questions about whether Huang and the Democrats had politicized his position in government before the 1996 campaign, using it to help bring in money to the party while, as some allege, providing helpful inside-government guidance for select business supporters in return.

The records specifically appear to challenge the DNC's insistence that it had no knowledge at the time of any of Huang's improper campaign fund-raising, which is now a focus of the congressional and federal investigations.

The pattern also raises possible legal, as well as political, issues.

The Hatch Act states that federal government employees "may not solicit, accept or receive political contributions," except under special circumstances, which did not apply in Huang's case. Under federal regulations, "solicit" is defined as "to request expressly of another person that he or she contribute something to a candidate, a campaign, a political party or partisan group."

Huang joined the Democratic National Committee as a full-time fund-raiser on Dec. 5, 1995. After that, he raised $3.4 million for the party and its campaign last year, mostly from the Asian American community. The DNC has since determined that nearly half of the money was improperly raised or from questionable donors, some of them from overseas, and will be returned.

But part of the sprawling Justice Department and congressional investigations are now focused on Huang's previous 17-month stint at the Commerce Department, where the former chief U.S. executive for the Indonesia-based Lippo Group took a mid-level position after moving from the private to the public sector.

The Commerce Department's inspector general and the House Government Reform and Oversight civil service subcommittee are particularly reviewing Huang's government work for possible violations of the Hatch Act. The congressional panel, headed by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), plans to hold hearings early this summer.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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