POLITICS FEBRUARY 4, 2008
It's not that we expect politicians to have squeaky-clean donor lists. You try running for office without, at one point or another, taking money from someone you probably shouldn't. Even Barack Obama, Mr. Clean, has Tony Rezko. But the Frank Giustra-Kazakhstan-Uranium affair, blown open by The New York Times last week, serves as a reminder that the relationship between the Clintons and money has not always been lily-white. Here, a guide to the unsavory characters who have been associated with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
THE DONORNorman Hsu, Hong Kong "apparel executive."
THE GREENHsu bundled more than $850,000 for Hillary's presidential campaign and $260,000 for Clinton's Senate races.
THE SCANDALHsu parlayed his charming, obsequious personality into a spot as one of the top twenty Democratic fund-raisers nationwide. Problem is, he turned out to be a convicted felon, on the lam since 1992 due to a grand theft conviction. Then, this December, Hsu was indicted for running a pyramid scheme that defrauded investors out of at least $20 million and that made $25,000 a year in fraudulent political donations.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 somewhat sleazy and 10 stupendously so)8. Hsu missed his initial (September 5) court date for the 1992 grand theft charge, only to be apprehended a day later on a train in Colorado; he was “freaked out,” shirtless, shoeless, and holding a suitcase packed with Tiffany jewelry and $7,000 in cash. Now in federal custody, he confessed to running "phony" companies and leaning on investors to make political donations.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS (on a scale of 1 to 10)7. Extensive Hsu coverage stretched out over several news cycles during Hillary’s presidential campaign, and the sordid details of the affair--the pyramid schemes, the links to Asian gangs, the eccentric professional con artist himself--stirred up memories of Clinton fund-raising scandals past. Hillary blamed the fiasco on errors in the donor-screening process.
THE DONORSMarc Rich, fugitive American businessman; Denise Rich, songwriter and socialite.
THE GREENDenise Rich contributed $70,000 to Hillary’s Senate campaign and $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library fund.
THE SCANDALOver seventeen years after Marc Rich fled to Switzerland to avoid charges of racketeering, illegal trading, and tax evasion (he owed $48 million), Bill Clinton pardoned Rich during his last moments in the White House. His ex-wife Denise's generous donations and Friend of Bill status gave the pardon a particularly rotten stench.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7.5. Rich has been accused of a long list of white-collar crimes. The classiest: trading with Iran while the country was still holding U.S. hostages.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS9.5. As Hillary began her career in the Senate, a media frenzy and investigations in both houses of Congress and the Justice Department were launched to see if Denise’s contributions bought her ex-husband’s pardon. Though the president was never indicted for wrongdoing, the Rich affair is often mentioned as Exhibit A of Clintonian sliminess.
THE DONORAaron Tonken, former Hollywood fund-raiser, current federal penitentiary inmate in California.
THE GREENIn 2000 he hosted a fund-raiser that took in more than $1 million for Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign.
THE SCANDALTonken originally drew interest from the FBI for failing to report some donations from the event to the FEC. Although he was never charged for election-law violations, in 2003 he pleaded guilty to stealing from charities, including, according to an ABC News report, the Betty Ford clinic. He is currently serving a five-year sentence for mail and wire fraud.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR9. The self-described con man got his start in Hollywood as Zsa Zsa Gabor's dog keeper. He sold stories about her to tabloids and snuck tourists into her dilapidated, dog feces-ridden mansion while she was out of town. In his memoir, King of Cons, Tonken wrote, "In a land of moral imbeciles, I knew I could be king."
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS4. A fund-raising committee for Hillary Clinton's 2000 campaign had to pay $35,000 in fines to the FEC for underreporting the costs of the gala, even though a federal inquiry failed to find any culpability on the Clintons' part. The financial burden to the Clinton campaign was insignificant--the real harm done was in the image of guilt by association.
THE DONORPeter F. Paul, renaissance man, jack of all trades.
THE GREENHe co-hosted the 2000 fund-raiser with Tonken.
THE SCANDALHow did Paul underwrite the gala? According to The Washington Post, by improperly borrowing more than $4 million from Merrill Lynch. Shortly after that was discovered, Paul hopped a plane to Brazil and spent years waging a two-front war: fighting extradition and trying to sue Hillary for underreporting the value of the event. In 2003, Paul was extradited to the U.S., and Clinton agreed to pay a $35,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR9.5. You’ve gotta give this guy credit for flamboyance. According to The Washington Post, Paul’s laundry list of crimes includes a 1970s plot to sell $8.75 million worth of nonexistent coffee beans to Fidel Castro--the plan was to sink an empty cargo ship before it reached Cuba so he could keep the cash. In 1979, he was imprisoned for fraud and cocaine possession, then later violated parole, reportedly fleeing to Canada with a dead man's identity. After his release from prison in the ‘80s, he served as partner and manager to Fabio.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS4. Hillary offered the same explanation for missing Paul's criminal background as she gave for missing Norman Hsu’s: technical errors in the vetting process. It worked--by 2008, most Americans have forgotten about Peter F. Paul.
THE DONORSant S. Chatwal, founder of Bombay Palace restaurants.
THE GREENIn 2000, Chatwal hosted a half-million dollar fund-raiser for Clinton in New York. In 2007, he declared his intentions to raise $5 million for Hillary’s presidential campaign.
THE SCANDALAccording to The Washington Post, as of September 2007, The IRS was pursuing him for $4 million in back taxes, the State of New York for another $5 million, and the FDIC is suing himin connection with a failed bank venture. The Post wrote, “Yet none of the legal and financial woes--occasionally touched on in American or Indian newspapers or highlighted by political opponents--raised red flags inside Hillary Clinton's fund-raising operation.”
THE SLEAZE FACTOR4. Though Chatwal's legal troubles span several suits and two continents (he’s also been charged with bank fraud in India), his alleged crimes lack the color and imagination of, say, a Peter F. Paul.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS1. So far, none. But if any of the lawsuits against him come to a head during election season, the timing would be awful for Clinton.
THE DONORSInternational Profit Associates (IPA), an Illinois-based management consulting and business development company.
THE GREENBill Clinton pocketed $125,000 for addressing IPA workers in December 2001. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that firm employees have forked over nearly $130,000 in contributions to Hillary’s Senate campaigns since 2000.
THE SCANDALIPA has faced a string of scandals--most notably, a widely reported sexual harassment suit involving 113 former female employees. Two of them told their stories on a 2005 episode of "Oprah Winfrey Show."
THE SLEAZE FACTOR8.5. The harassment suit included accusations that the CEO offered money to a female employee in exchange for sex and that a sales manager would pin female employees up against the wall and ask if they enjoyed intercourse.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS3. Though never a large-scale national scandal, it doesn’t look good that Hillary has, in effect, shrugged off what the lead attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency leading the investigation) called one of the “most egregious case of sex harassment that the Chicago district office has seen.” Senator Clinton--unlike other politicians who received campaign donations from IPA employees, such as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle--has opted not to return the contributions.
THE REELECTION FUND-RAISING FIASCO
The tangled web of scandals associated with the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in 1996 led to hearings by a Senate committee led by Fred Thompson. Though Thompson’s hearings are widely considered to have been a bust, several unsavory characters came to light.
THE DONORYah Lin "Charlie" Trie, Taiwanese-Arkansan restaurateur-turned-fund-raiser.
THE SCANDALTrie, who knew Clinton from his days as the owner of the Fu Lin restaurant in Little Rock, moved to Washington in 1994 and began donating to the Clintons and the DNC through various shady channels, including through “straw donors,” typically poor legal immigrants who stand in for foreign businesspeople.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7. Trie was notorious for peddling access to President Clinton. Most distressingly, he set up a White House coffee klatch with a Chinese arms dealer.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS7. Trie earned the dubious distinction of being the first Clinton donor indicted during the Justice Department's 1997 campaign finance investigation.
THE DONORJohn Huang, businessman and Commerce Department official under the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1995.
THE GREENHe raised $3.4 million for the DNC in 1996. Most of it has since been returned.
THE SCANDALIn 1996 Huang solicited an illegal donation of $250,000 from a company in South Korea, as well as $425,000 from donors whose U.S. citizenship was an issue of contention. He also co-organized a 1996 fund-raising event at the Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California, where monks and nuns under an oath of poverty mysteriously contributed large sums of money to the DNC. It was later revealed that they were reimbursed for their donations by the church, and the money had to be returned.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7.5. Thompson’s committee suggested darkly that Huang may have been acting as an "agent of influence" for China, though the committee ultimately had scant evidence supporting the plot.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS8. Considerable. Though the money he raised was primarily for the DNC, Huang had remarkable access to the president and the West Wing. The Commerce Department even gave him a top-secret security clearance--with a cursory background check far less thorough than normal procedure--when he was still a private citizen.
THE DONORJames Riady, Indonesian banking magnate.
THE GREENRiady and his business associates gave more than $700,000 to the Democratic Party between 1991 and 1997. They also paid $100,000 to Clinton friend Webster L. Hubbell, who resigned from his job as associate attorney general after being charged with tax evasion and mail fraud.
THE SCANDALRiady, a regular visitor to the Clinton White House, was busted by the Justice Department in 2001 for funneling foreign corporate money into Clinton's 1992 election effort. (He had to pay out $8.6 million to the DOJ--the largest campaign finance settlement in history.) In 1997, the Thompson-led committee accused Riady of maintaining "a long-term relationship with a Chinese intelligence agency."
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7. Riady was a big fund-raiser for Bill from his Arkansas days, and repeatedly pressed Clinton on sensitive foreign policy issues. Riady was also closely linked to a number of other scandals, including the improper appointment of John Huang (a former manager at Riady's company) and the Hsi Lai Temple fund-raiser (which was organized by Huang).
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS6. In 1997, pre-cigar, William Safire called the Riady affair "the low point of the Clinton Presidency." Still, his name is all but forgotten today.
THE DONORJohnny Chung, a Taiwan-born, California-based businessman.
THE GREENHe gave $366,000 in personal and corporate donations between 1994 and 1996. All the money was returned by the DNC.
THE SCANDALChung’s contributions to the Democratic Party earned him significant access to the Clinton administration: He made at least 49 visits to the White House between 1994 and 1996. He arranged for five of his Chinese business clients to attend a taping of one of President Clinton’s weekly radio addresses after making a $50,000 donation to the DNC. Furthermore, Chung claimed that part of his donated funds came from sources connected to the Chinese government. (The Chinese government emphatically denies the allegations.)
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7. Ick! One radioactively slimy Chung quote: "The White House is like a subway: You have to put in coins to open gates."
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS7. Chung was one of the most recognizable--and damning-- figures in the campaign finance controversy; 49 White House visits will have that effect.
THE DONORRoger Tamraz, a Lebanese-American businessman.
THE GREENTamraz and his company donated $300,000 to the Democratic Party in 1995 and 1996.
THE SCANDALIn 1996, Tamraz apparently sought to leverage his donations into a face-to-face meeting with President Clinton over the objections of a National Security Council staff member. Members of the Democratic National Committee, the CIA, and the Clinton administration were all alleged to have gone to bat on Tamraz's behalf to allow him access to the White House. Tamraz then used the meeting to propose a $2.5-billion oil pipeline through Central Asia, a proposal that was then passed on to officials in the Energy Department. (Nothing ever came of it.) He was later a key witness at the Thompson committee hearings.
THE SLEAZE FACTOR7. Know when your reputation could use a boost? When The New York Times writes sentences about you like this: “Indeed, in describing Mr. Tamraz in testimony on Wednesday and again today, the adjective used most often by lawmakers was ‘shady.’” (It didn’t help that when Joe Lieberman asked Tamraz at the Senate hearing if he thought he got his "money's worth" for his $300,000 donation, Tamraz replied "I think next time I'll give $600,000.") Also, at the time of his meeting with Clinton, Tamraz was wanted by Interpol for allegedly embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars from a Beirut bank. In a separate case before that, the Times reported, a French court had ordered him to pay $56 million for his role in the collapse of a French bank.
THE DAMAGE TO THE CLINTONS3.5. Not so bad in the context of the larger scandals. But Tamraz’s name continues to surface from time to time, most recently on the best-seller list and the movie marquee. The saga of a man (modeled after Tamraz) using cash to gain access and influence in the White House appeared in former CIA agent Robert Baer's book See No Evil, which served as the inspiration for Syriana.
So many donors, so little time. Here, other donors who have sullied the Clintons' reputation over the years.
Jeffrey Epstein: In 2002, the wealthy money-manager and Friend of Bill flew the former president in his private jet to Africa to discuss AIDS policy. He was recently indicted on charges of soliciting prostitution from underage girls. The Smoking Gun has the gruesome details. (Warning: Link is disgusting.)
John K.H. Lee: The South Korean businessman scored a meeting with President Clinton in 1996 after making a $250,000 donation to the DNC. Under U.S. federal election law, foreign companies and individuals are not permitted to make donations, but Lee tried to skirt the restriction by donating via a U.S. subsidiary of his company, which, problematically, didn’t really exist. When it was discovered in September 1996 that the money had originated from Lee's South Korea-based parent company, the DNC returned the contribution.
Pauline Kanchanalak: Kanchanalak, a business executive and Democratic fund-raiser who met frequently with President Clinton, was sentenced to six months of house arrest in 1996 for funneling $690,000 of foreign contributions to the DNC. She claimed the money came from her in-laws.
Ng Lap Seng: The businessman and owner of Macau’s Fortuna Hotel (per The Washington Post, “known as much for its prostitutes working the lobby as for its floor show of whip-wielding, leather-clad dancers upstairs”) wired more than one million dollars to convicted Clinton donor Charlie Trie between 1994 and 1996 through a company the two co-owned--nearly a quarter of that money ended up in the DNC’s hands. Ng attended DNC events and met with the Clintons at the White House.
Abdul Rehman Jinnah: According to the Los Angeles Times, this Pakistani immigrant raised more than $45,000 for Hillary Clinton’s HillPac, allegedly reimbursing employees who contributed to Democratic causes, including Clinton's political action committee, which is illegal. He fled to Pakistan after a grand jury indicted him for violations of election law in 2006, and was placed on the FBI "featured fugitives" list. He returned to the U.S. last year.
Ron Burkle: He's never been accused of any crimes, but Ron Burkle lies at the center of any innuendo about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential life. A much-commented-upon May 2006 New York Times article stated, “Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle.” The zippy Burkle, friends with Bill since 1992, often flies the former president in his private Boeing 575, described by Clinton as "Ron Air" and "Air Force Two." Burkle, also reportedly a “longtime friend” of Michael Jackson, has thrown lavish fund-raisers for Hillary at Green Acres, his Hollywood estate. Rumors abound about the supermarket billionaire’s private life. “Page Six” covered Bill's bachelor buddy unfavorably, writing that he used the jet to entertain young models--and that he was dating Gisele Bundchen. Burkle then made headlines by secretly recording an alleged extortion attempt by a reporter for the gossip column. He has also been accused of using his influence as a Democratic donor to speed a law through the California legislature that would have kept the records of his messy divorce proceedings sealed.
Bill Clinton has been a senior advisor to Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. since early 2002. Clinton is only now trying to untangle himself from the company, a move that will simultaneously free him from questions about Yucaipa’s ties to Dubai, while also netting a reported $20 million payday. One particularly shady deal Clinton’s scheduler helped Yucaipa arrange was its investment in Catholic Church properties at the urging of a young Italian businessman named Raffaello Follieri. As The Wall Street Journal reported last fall, in 2005, Follieri intimated to Clinton aide Douglas Band that Yucaipa could make a killing on the deal--and that his ties to the Vatican would smooth the transaction. Yucaipa plowed as much as $100 million into the venture, and Band was paid a $400,000 “finder’s fee” by Follieri. The Italian then spent Yucaipa’s cash on an apartment in New York, private jets, and gifts for himself and his girlfriend, The Devil Wears Prada star Anne Hathaway. Burkle is currently suing Follieri for misappropriating at least $1.3 million.
Marin Cogan is a journalist in Pittsburgh. Melanie Mason is a journalist in Washington D.C. Barron YoungSmith is a web intern at The New Republic.
By Marin Cogan, Melanie Mason, and Barron YoungSmith