Democrats return $325,000 campaign contribution Party can't be sure of giver's identity

November 07, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Democratic National Committee said yesterday it was returning one of its largest 1996 campaign contributions, $325,000, to Yogesh K. Gandhi because it was unable to determine that money actually had come from the Northern California entrepreneur as required by law.

"The donation was lawful on its face," DNC spokeswoman Amy Weiss Tobe said. "However, after questions were raised by the Los Angeles Times, we did our own investigation and ascertained that the check needed to be returned because there were so many unanswered questions."

The refund is the latest -- and largest -- made by the party after press inquiries into illegal or suspect donations. It fuels criticisms that the committee exercised little, if any, oversight of foreign contributors in its rush to keep pace with Republicans in this costliest-ever campaign season.

The Democrats have returned more than $700,000 in questionable or illegal donations in the last six weeks.

Gandhi, a distant relative of Mohandas K. Gandhi, is president of the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation in Orinda, Calif. He made the contribution during a Democratic fund-raiser at a Washington hotel in May at which he and his financial backers gave President Clinton a Gandhi peace award. The controversial Japanese spiritual leader Hogen Fukunaga -- who has courted legitimacy around the world with Gandhi's assistance -- was photographed presenting Clinton with a bust of Mohandas Gandhi.

The DNC said it began its own inquiry into the Gandhi contribution after an article appeared Oct. 23 in the Los Angeles Times suggesting that Gandhi did not have the financial resources in this country to make such a large contribution. Among other things, the article said Gandhi had testified under oath in court in August that he had no U.S. assets.

Committee officials obtained a copy of the court transcript this week, then contacted Gandhi to ask him to document that he had the financial resources to make the donation, party sources said. The DNC official who spoke to Gandhi said Gandhi had "indicated that he had bank accounts in this country in his own name and that he would get back to us with additional information to confirm it," but had failed to do so.

The money was refunded to Gandhi late yesterday, officials said.

It is illegal to conceal the identity of a campaign contributor.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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