Mass. senator linked to fund-raiser Chung Kerry campaign aides solicited funds after SEC tour was arranged

December 25, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Campaign aides to Democratic Sen. John Kerry solicited contributions from Johnny Chung, a controversial Democratic fund-raiser, after the Massachusetts senator's Washington office helped arrange a visit to the Securities and Exchange Commission for Chung and some foreign business associates.

Chung's nearly $400,000 in contributions to the Democratic Party are a focus of the Justice Department's inquiry into improper campaign fund raising in the 1996 elections.

According to a report published yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, Chung, a California businessman, reimbursed his employees for contributing to Kerry's campaign at a reception he held for the Democratic senator at a California hotel in September 1996.

Kerry was on a Western fund-raising tour for his hard-fought re-election fight against William F. Weld, then-governor of Massachusetts.

Under federal election law, it is illegal to give money to a campaign in the name of someone else.

Chung's lawyer, Brian Sun, said yesterday that his client was not aware that reimbursing his employees for their contributions was illegal and was ignorant about the federal campaign laws.

Noting that the fund-raising reception for Kerry was very small and that a senior Democratic fund-raising official was in attendance, Sun added: "It's somewhat troubling that the professional [fund-raisers] didn't alert my client as to what was HTC appropriate and not appropriate under the campaign finance laws that they were supposed to be familiar with. It's absolutely clear my client had no understanding of the nuances of these laws."

Something Chung did understand was the value of getting access to Washington policy-makers. He made many visits to the White House and had pictures of himself taken with President Clinton, sometimes with his foreign business associates included.

After being contacted by a Kerry campaign fund-raiser in the summer of 1996 about contributing to the senator's re-election, Chung stopped by Kerry's office with a group of foreign business associates in August.

After they met with the senator, Chung's associates asked for help in arranging a visit to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Tovah Ravitz, Kerry's spokeswoman, said the senator's office contacted the commission's congressional liaison office to arrange a tour for the group. The commission understood the request from the Kerry office differently, however, and arranged for Chung and his associates to have a meeting with the director of the agency's corporate finance division and his deputy.

"This was a routine meeting," said Chris Ullman, the director of public affairs at the commission. "We often meet with foreign officials or foreign executives whose companies are learning about U.S. securities markets. Nothing special was requested, and nothing special was granted."

Ullman said Chung and his friends were interested in finding out about the process for foreign companies to be listed in stock exchanges in the United States. He said the commission frequently briefed foreign executives on these procedures.

A few days after Chung's visit to Washington, Kerry campaign aides called Chung again, to ask whether he would help raise money for the senator in California. He arranged for a small reception on Sept. 9, 1996 in Beverly Hills.

Ravitz said there was no connection between the campaign fund-raising request and helping Chung visit the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Helping someone get a tour of a government building is something we've done for thousands of people around the country," she said.

Kerry was not aware that Chung reimbursed donors for their contributions to his re-election, Ravitz said. Earlier this year, however, after published reports raised questions about Chung's fund raising, the Kerry campaign returned the $10,000 in donations raised by Chung.

"We wanted to be pro-active," Ravitz said.

The Democratic National Committee has returned $366,000 in contributions from Chung.

Pub Date: 12/25/97

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