Money, influence and deception Campaign corruption: Democratic fund-raising flaws show need for reforms.

November 24, 1996

LITTLE BY LITTLE the facts get bigger and bigger about the Democratic National Committee's open pockets for illicit and unethical campaign contributions. Little by little, President Clinton and his White House handlers fess up that their meetings with big donors with big Asian connections were more than just drop-by social chats.

As the evidence mounts, the president assumes the pose of injured innocence he has used to explain his tangled affairs in what is known as Whitewater. He has even compared his plight with that of Richard Jewell, who was targeted and then exonerated in the Atlanta Olympics bombing. The difference, of course, is that Mr. Jewell was innocent and the Whitewater investigation goes on.

Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel Mr. Clinton has accused of trying to get him, has alleged that various persons involved in Arkansas banking and land deals engaged heavily in lying and deception. Whether his net extends as far as the president and his wife will be revealed only when and if indictments are forthcoming.

In the meantime, the Washington focus is shifting to the fund-raising malfeasance of the DNC, the artful dodging of the administration in the closing days of the presidential campaign and the linkage between Mr. Clinton and representatives of an Indonesian banking combine whom he first met during his Arkansas days.

The New York Times has revealed that a dispute erupted within the White House staff when a close Clinton aide, Bruce Lindsey, effectively blacked out disclosures that the president had discussed foreign policy matters with James T. Riady, an Indonesian billionaire, and his protege, John Huang, who raised millions for the Clinton campaign while working for the DNC. Two rebuffed White House employees headed for the exit.

Both the president and DNC officials now concede they did not adequately screen contributions from non-citizens and foreign sources. More than $1 million has been returned. But a mere mea culpa won't do. Because of the avalanche of dubious, influence-seeking money that poured into the coffers of both major parties, an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate. Congressional probes should begin. Proof of corruption is needed to goad elected politicians in Congress to enact the kinds of campaign finance reforms that are so badly needed.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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