Liberal media outlets are doing their best to boost former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, President Obama's third pick for the beleaguered Commerce Secretary job. "Obama's New Commerce Pick Has Clean Reputation," declared National Public Radio's Tom Banse. The Democrat possesses "a largely scandal-free resume" reported The New York Times. He is a "safe choice," the Washington Post asserted, because of his "strait-laced reputation."
But repeating the Mr. Clean claim doesn't make it so. Those in his home state who know Locke best paint a far grimier picture of a crony politician with a serial habit of skirting campaign finance laws and conflict-of-interest rules. In other words: Locke's "Do As I Say, Not as I Do" record makes him a good fit for the ethically impaired Obama administration.
The left-leaning Seattle Weekly newspaper notes that Locke presided over a $3.2 billion tax break for Boeing while "never disclosing he paid $715,000 to -- and relied on the advice of -- Boeing's own private consultant and outside auditor." Then there's the tainted matter of Locke's "favors for his brother-in-law (who lived in the governor's mansion), including a tax break for his relative's company, personal intervention in a company dispute, and Locke's signature on a federal loan application for the company." Locke's laces ain't so straight.
The glowing profiles of Locke have largely glossed over his troubling ties to the Clinton-era Chinagate scandal. As the nation's first Chinese-American governor, Locke aggressively raised cash from ethnic constituencies around the country. Convicted campaign finance money-launderer John Huang helped grease the wheels and open doors.
In the same time period that Huang was drumming up illegal cash for Clinton-Gore at the federal level, he also organized two 1996 galas for Locke in Washington, D.C. (where Locke hobnobbed with Clinton and other Chinagate principals); three fundraisers in Los Angeles; and an extravaganza at the Universal City, Calif., Hilton in October 1996 that raised upward of $30,000. Huang also made personal contributions to Locke -- as did another Clinton-Gore funny-money figure, Indonesian business mogul Ted Sioeng and his family and political operatives.
Sioeng, whom Justice Department and intelligence officials suspected of acting on behalf of the Chinese government, illegally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both Democratic and Republican coffers. Bank records from congressional investigators indicated that one Sioeng associate's maximum individual contribution to Locke was illegally reimbursed by the businessman's daughter.
Checks to Locke's campaign poured in from prominent Huang and Sioeng associates, many of whom were targets of federal investigations, including: Hoyt Zia, a Commerce Department counsel, who stated in a sworn deposition that Huang had access to virtually any classified document through him; Melinda Yee, another Clinton Commerce Department official who admitted to destroying Freedom of Information Act-protected notes on a China trade mission involving Huang's former employer, the Indonesia-based Lippo Group; Praitun Kanchanalak, mother of convicted Thai influence-peddler Pauline Kanchanalak; Kent La, exclusive distributor of Sioeng's Chinese cigarettes in the United States; and Sioeng's wife and son-in-law.
Locke eventually returned a token amount of money from Huang and Kanchanalak, but not before bitterly playing the race card and accusing critics of his sloppy accounting and questionable schmoozing of stirring up anti-Asian-American sentiment. "It will make our efforts doubly hard to get Asian Americans appointed to top-level positions across the United States," Locke complained. "If they have any connection to John Huang, those individuals will face greater scrutiny and their lives will be completely opened up and examined -- perhaps more than usual."
That scrutiny (such as it was) was more than justified. On top of his Chinagate entanglements, Locke's political committee was fined the maximum amount by Washington's campaign finance watchdog for failing to disclose out-of-state New York City Chinatown donors. One of those events was held at NYC's Harmony Palace restaurant, co-owned by Chinese street gang thugs.
And then there were Locke's not-so-squeaky-clean fundraising trips to a Buddhist temple in Redmond, Wash., which netted nearly $14,000 from monks and nuns -- many of whom barely spoke English, couldn't recall donating to Locke, or were out of the country and could never be located. Of the known temple donors identified by the Locke campaign, five gave $1,000 each on July 22, 1996 -- paid in sequentially ordered cashier's checks. Two priests gave $1,000 and $1,100 respectively on Aug. 8, 1996. Three other temple adherents also gave $1,000 contributions on Aug. 8. Internal campaign records show that two other temple disciples donated $2,000 and $1,000 respectively on other dates. State campaign finance investigators failed to track down some of the donors during their probe.
But while investigating the story for the Seattle Times, I interviewed temple donor Siu Wai Wong, a bald, robed 40-year-old priest who could not remember when or by what means he had given a $1,000 contribution to Locke. He also refused to say whether he was a U.S. citizen, explaining that his "English (was) not so good." Although an inept state campaign-finance panel absolved Locke and his campaign of any wrongdoing, the extensive public record clearly shows that the Locke campaign used Buddhist monks as conduits for laundered money.
The longtime reluctance to press Locke -- who became a high-powered attorney specializing in China trade issues for international law firm Davis, Wright & Tremaine after leaving the governor's mansion -- on his reckless, ethnic-based fundraising will undoubtedly extend to the politically correct and cowed Beltway. Supporters are now touting Locke's cozy relations with the Chinese government as a primary reason he deserves the Commerce Department post. Yet another illustration of how "Hope and Change" is just another synonym for "Screw Up, Move Up."