WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House panel investigating alleged campaign fund-raising abuses, announced yesterday that he would return two questionable donations to his own coffers, prompting renewed concerns among Democrats about his fitness to lead the probe.
The Indiana Republican, who faces an FBI investigation into his alleged soliciting of contributions from a lobbyist for the government of Pakistan, said he will return small donations he received in 1992 and 1993 from two Sikh temples. Religious groups are forbidden by law from donating to political campaigns.
Burton aides called the $646 in returned contributions insignificant -- not in the same league with the roughly $3 million that the Democratic National Committee has been forced to return in the growing scandal over foreign-linked money in the 1996 presidential campaign.
"This is less than minuscule," Burton's attorney, Joseph DiGenova, said of the checks. "In comparison with the kinds of problems [President Clinton] has, this is not even on the radar screen."
Nonetheless, some Democrats said the questions swirling around Burton's money-raising practices make him the wrong person to lead the House inquiry.
"If you took out the name Dan Burton and put in the name [Vice President] Al Gore or Bill Clinton in these current allegations, the Republicans would be out subpoenaing everybody in town and screaming about the egregiousness of the allegations," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House investigative committee.
Burton aides agreed his campaign should not have accepted contributions from two Houston temples -- $345 from the Sikh Center of the Gulf Coast Area in 1993 and $301 from Gurudwara Sahib in 1992. In 1994, Burton returned a contribution for $250 from the Guru Nanak Sikh Mission in Livingston, Calif., aides said.
Waxman and other Democrats are still fuming over their failed effort last week to broaden the scope of the House fund-raising investigation. Burton intends to focus the probe on the Clinton administration, rebuffing Democratic efforts to open it up to include potential GOP improprieties. Democrats have charged Burton's approach could turn the proceedings into a partisan charade.
Burton, a prodigious fund-raiser in his own right, has found himself increasingly under the spotlight as he scrutinizes donations to the Democrats.
The Associated Press reported that Burton has parlayed his support for Pakistan, Puerto Rican statehood and Cuba sanctions into an out-of-state flow of money that dwarfs the donations he gets from constituents.
Burton got 84 percent of his big individual donations -- those over $200 that by law must be disclosed -- from outside his home state of Indiana, the AP analysis of campaign records shows.
That's far more than the average House member, who gets only about 20 percent from out of state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Burton received $228,325 from individuals outside Indiana in 1995-1996, while in-state donations totaled $42,490, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by AP.
He received $252,602 more from political action committees, with the largest special-interest donations -- about $60,000 -- coming from the financial, insurance and real estate interests. Burton is a one-time insurance salesman.
Burton received more money from Florida, mainly from Cuban exiles and Nicaraguans, than from Indiana -- $67,550 compared with $42,490.
His strong positions against Fidel Castro included sponsorship of the Helms-Burton law designed to punish Cuba economically, and he supported the former pro-U.S. contras in Nicaragua.
Burton took in an additional $14,000 from Puerto Rico residents in 1995-1996, and received thousands of dollars more from two other groups that have strong national networks: Sikh-Americans and Pakistani-Americans.
Pub Date: 4/17/97