WASHINGTON -- The Democratic National Committee said last night that it had suspended the fund-raising activities of a senior party official with long-standing ties to a prominent Indonesian family and asked the Federal Election Commission to begin an expedited investigation to determine whether he had solicited any improper donations.
The decision to relieve John Huang, a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee's finance arm, of his fund-raising duties amounted to an acknowledgment that reports that he had organized a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple and had solicited an illegal contribution of $250,000 from a South Korean conglomerate were making him a political liability.
The Democrats returned the South Korean donation last month, and yesterday they said they would reimburse the Hsi Lai Temple near Los Angeles the $15,000 it spent for food and other expenses for the fund-raiser.
But the committee also said it would keep the $140,000 raised at the temple, some of which was reported to have come from monks who have taken vows of poverty.
News reports in the past few weeks have detailed how Huang and other associates of the Riady family of Indonesia -- who control a $12 billion real estate, banking and insurance empire -- have contributed and raised millions of dollars for the Democrats.
Seizing on those reports, Bob Dole has made the corrosive influence of foreign money in U.S. politics a central theme in the waning days of his campaign.
President Clinton took a day off, but his campaign accused the Republicans of their own fund-raising chicanery.
"If Bob Dole wants to talk about campaign money-laundering, he should check in with his own campaign fund-raisers," said Joe Lockhart, press secretary to the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Lockhart issued a summary of three federal investigations into improper fund-raising by the Republicans, including the case of Simon Fireman, a vice chairman of the Dole campaign.
Fireman acknowledged three months ago that he had illegally reimbursed employees at his company for making $69,000 in contributions to Dole's campaign. As part of a plea bargain, Fireman agreed to a six-month prison sentence and a fine of $1 million for himself and $5 million for his company, Aqua-Leisure.
Similarly, Bob Dole and the Republicans have been the beneficiaries of donations from foreign-born U.S. residents -- including the Riady family.
XTC But in a letter yesterday to the FEC, the Democratic National Committee appeared to concede that it may have fund-raising problems of its own.
"Questions have been raised in the news media about certain contributions made to the Democratic National Committee during the last two years," said Joseph Sandler, the committee's general counsel, in a letter to Lawrence Noble, general counsel at the Federal Election Commission.
"We are referring these matters to the commission for investigation as appropriate, and we request that such an investigation be expedited."
Sandler also said the committee would cooperate fully in the investigation, and other officials said yesterday that Huang would also be cooperative.
"John remains at the DNC as a staff member," said Amy Weiss Tobe, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "He has no fund-raising assignments. He's devoting his attention to these issues and is cooperating fully with the FEC and DNC."
Huang joined the Democratic National Committee this year after leaving his post as a trade official at the Commerce Department. Known for strong ties to the Asian-American community on the West Coast, Huang was praised by Clinton at a California fund-raiser in July for his "aggressive efforts to help our cause."
Before he arrived in Washington to serve in the Clinton administration, Huang had been a top executive in the United States for the U.S. interests of the Riady family and the conglomerate they control, the Lippo Group.
Pub Date: 10/19/96