CONASON: Critics of DNC Contributions Forget History
Back in the good old days, right-wing dictators received valuable considerations in return for campaign cash.There was a time not so long ago when foreigners who ladled enormous wads of cash into American political campaigns could expect to get their money's worth without embarrassment. No one would ask any questions, no one would report anything to the government or the press, and the discretion of the recipient could be relied upon. Not anymore. Now, when relatives of an adviser to an Indonesian billionaire give $425,000 to the Democratic National Committee, the story is splashed across the front pages and gets major play from columnist William Safire of The New York Times. Republican Senators demand an investigation, and the Speaker of the House declares, "This makes Watergate look tiny. How many green-card holders have been solicited by the Clinton Administration and are funneling Asian money from China, from Korea, from Indonesia into the Democratic Party to try to buy an election?"No doubt Newt Gingrich's excited reference to Watergate made Mr. Safire smile; the Times Op-Ed sage suffers from a continuing obsession that every President is guilty of the same crimes that drove his former boss Richard Nixon from the White House. So let's give him and Mr. Gingrich, the former history professor, a quick refresher course: In Watergate, the Nixon White House solicited $2 million from milk producers in return for increased price supports; extorted $400,000 from ITT Corporation in exchange for Justice Department leniency in an antitrust case; and made similar deals with Howard Hughes and Robert Vesco. The list goes on, encompassing huge corporate contributions washed through banks in Switzerland, Mexico and Panama.But those bribers were Americans and not, in Mr. Gingrich's xenophobic phrase, "green-card holders" from Asia. True enough, although it's hard to see what difference that makes. In any case, Nixon took money illegally from foreigners, too, including sources in the mysterious East. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who helped to finance both the 1968 and 1972 Republican campaigns, gave Nixon at least $1 million in secret contributions. During the course of Tricky Dick's career, beginning with his first campaign for the Senate, he took unreported millions from the Taiwan lobby as well.Nor should we forget "the Greek connection," a Greek-American businessman bearing gifts of covert cash to his pal Nixon from the military junta that then ruled the cradle of democracy. Figures eventually revealed in Congressional hearings ran as high as $549,000 (which, adjusted for inflation, makes today's Indonesian billionaire look stingy). Historian Stanley Kutler has suggested that the original Watergate burglary may have been motivated by Nixon's fear that the "Greek connection" was about to be exposed by the Democrats. So much for Mr. Gingrich's Watergate analogy, and for Mr. Safire's tut-tutting complaint that this year's Asian donations to the Democrats represent "unprecedented largess to American politicians from aliens." Only an epidemic of amnesia could permit such patently false comparisons to go unchallenged. In fact, quite recently, Ed Rollins wrote in his memoir that Marcos sent a Washington lobbyist $10 million intended for Ronald Reagan's re-election campaign in 1984. Nobody has demanded an investigation of that charge, or of equally plausible accusations that Mr. Reagan got millions unlawfully from Guatemalan rightists in 1980.This year, the Democrats did take (and later returned) an illegal contribution from a South Korean businessman, apparently assuming that it could squeeze through the election law's wide loopholes regulating "soft money" contributions to political party coffers. But since when did the Republicans become so righteous about "Korean influence peddling"? They know that South Korean money helped to create the most important edifices of New Right conservatism, from the Heritage Foundation to The Washington Times. Back in the good old days, right-wing dictators could rest assured that they would receive valuable considerations in return for campaign cash, such as silence on human rights abuses and millions in U.S. weapons and aid. No one has shown yet that the Indonesian donors to the Democrats got anything more useful than a handshake and a nice thank-you note from Bill Clinton. Actually, Mr. Clinton is the first President to speak out against Indonesian atrocities in East Timor.Even so, the Indonesians certainly benefited from Mr. Clinton's shift on China trade policy. While there probably was no crime committed, the appearance is bad enough to warrant a Congressional investigation of soft-money contributions to both parties, from both foreign and domestic sources. If the Democrats win control of Congress, they should immediately institute such a probe with an aim toward sweeping reforms. Just don't let anyone tell you that this is Watergate, or that Republicans are purer than Democrats. It isn't, and they aren't.Question Time When Bob Dole denounces Bill Clinton's ethics, why doesn't anyone ask Mr. Dole about his tangled ties to the price-fixers at Archer Daniels Midland Company?