IF CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATORS really wanted to know about Gary Locke’s campaign finances that evening, they were asking the wrong guy: Gary Locke. “I don’t recall . . . I don’t remember,” the governor repeatedly answered, unable to recollect some of the now-most-important places and faces from his 1996 gubernatorial campaign fund-raising efforts. As he explained to the six attorneys gathered around him: “I wouldn’t know virtually 80 percent of the people who contributed to the campaign.” That, apparently, is one of the perils of running for governor in the state of Washington and raising funds partly in New York, DC, and California: You meet, and forget, lots of strangers. This even more so for Locke, who has become one of the country’s leading Asian-American politicians, a possible vice presidential candidate, and a cash magnet for a constituency that ranges far beyond Washington state.
Now, testifying voluntarily before US investigators in the Preston Gates & Ellis law offices on Fifth Avenue a few days after the Fourth of July, Locke was asked to remember people he may or may not have met. For the governor, it was a two-hour mind bender.
“Do you know who Charlie Trie is?” asked Michael Bopp, chief investigative counsel for the House Oversight Committee chaired by Republican Rep. Dan Burton, famous of late for calling Clinton a “scumbag.” The GOP-heavy committee is investigating alleged Democratic campaign-finance irregularities from 1996—principally illegally funneled donations by the Chinese—involving some of the same people who gave to Locke’s $2.2 million campaign. Almost $400,000 of Locke’s funds came from out of state, a tenth of it donated by or raised at events organized by nine non-Washingtonians who are also targets of the House and Justice Department probes.
“I’ve heard the name in the newspapers,” America’s first Chinese-American governor continued. He had quietly agreed to give the sworn
testimony that is now revealed in a transcript released by the committee.
“Have you ever met him?” asked Bopp.
“I don’t know if I have or not. I don’t recall.”
“Do you know if anyone associated with your campaign attempted to contact Charlie Trie to ask for a contribution to your campaign?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Trie, a former Arkansas businessman and key campaign-irregularities figure charged with 15 counts of fund-raising violations, is thought to have fled to China. He did not contribute directly to Locke’s campaign, but was associated with donors who did.
BOPP MOVED ON. “Do you know Pauline Kanchanalak?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Do you know whether she contributed to your campaign?”
“Our records show no contribution from Pauline Kanchanalak.”
There was, however, a $1,000 donation from P. Kanchanalak—apparently Praitun Kanchanalak, Pauline’s mother-in-law. A week after Locke testified, Pauline, a Thai businesswoman, was charged with 24 conspiracy counts for $679,000 in laundered campaign contributions. Three other family members were also named in the indictment papers, including Praitun, an unindicted co-conspirator. Locke returned Praitun’s donation a week later—almost two years after it first came under suspicion.
The questioning continued. The governor was shown a photograph of a May 1996 Democratic fund-raising event in DC: “Let’s start on the lefthand side . . . do you recognize that gentleman?”
“Congressman Matsui,” Locke replied—Rep. Robert Matsui (D-California).
“And to his immediate right?”
“I don’t recognize that woman.”
“The man behind her?”
“That looks like John Huang, I’m not sure,” he said, referring to the Lippo Group/exCommerce Department official and notorious Democratic National Committee fund raiser whose whereabouts are now unknown after admitting to recycling illegal overseas contributions (he and Trie together raised $3 million, which the DNC had to return). Huang and his wife contributed $2,000 to Locke’s campaign, which Locke has not returned. Huang also helped bring in more than $25,000 from six Locke out-of-town fund raisers. (See “Money Trail,” SW 3/12/97).
“The woman to his left?”
“And to her left, I take it, is you?”
Locke nodded his head.
“And to President Clinton’s left?”
“That looks like Ginger Lew,” an associate of Huang whose role in the fund raising and possible removal of some classified documents has been scrutinized by the FBI. She donated $150 to Locke.
“And to her left?”
“Grace Yuan”—Locke’s thenpress secretary and sometime road-trip treasurer, who would later use campaign cash to pay an $870 restaurant tab and get fined $2,500 by the state.
LOCKE WAS SHOWN another photo, from a DC fund raiser, and asked if he recognized the man with Clinton. Locke identified him as Ted Sioeng, and said he met him for the first time that May, and they chatted.
“Did you ever ask Ted Sioeng to contribute to one of your campaigns?”
“I never asked him, no,” said Locke.
What did they talk about?
“Introduced myself at the table, kind of social chit-chat, that I was running for governor,” recounted Locke, adding that Sioeng said he published a newspaper and manufactured tobacco products or exported them to China. A month later, Locke said, he visited Sioeng on a fund-raising swing through LA.
Locke was shown the front page of Sioeng’s paper, dated July 2, 1996, and asked to identify those in a photo.
“I’m in the center. To my left is Ted Sioeng. To my right is my wife, Mona. I don’t know who the other two people are.”
“Do you recall posing for this picture?”
“I don’t recall posing.”
“Well . . .”
“This would be the time that we were at his office, but I don’t recall specifically taking, getting a picture taken. I’m sure we did have our picture taken. We had our pictures taken with just about everybody we met with in Los Angeles or anyplace else during the campaign trail.”
“Do you recall any of the circumstances through which this picture took place?”
“After our meeting, it was about a half-hour meeting, we did get a tour of his office. I don’t recall whether or not he actually printed the newspapers there or whether it was a corporate office. Several of his associates or people, plant managers were introduced to us and I think at least one other gentleman, one of his associates was in on the meeting.”
Locke was shown an English translation of the story written in Chinese. It read: “Gubernatorial candidate Mr. Gary Locke and his wife made a visit to the International Daily on the morning of 1 July 1996 to see an old friend, Mr. Ted Sioeng, the general manager, and renew past friendships.”
Locke didn’t know why Sioeng had written that. “Self-promotion” maybe, he offered.
SIOENG, AN INDONESIAN-BORN businessman, has now fled the US. He is a key figure in the federal probe and, along with associates and relatives, has been linked to illegal foreign contributions possibly funneled through John Huang.
Did any of Sioeng’s family assist in his campaign, Locke was asked.
“Not that I know of.”
“Did you attend . . . “
“They,” Locke interrupted, “may have contributed, I don’t know.”
Bopp then read a letter sent in May on Locke’s behalf by 1996 campaign consultant Blair Butterworth to committee chair Burton, noting Sioeng’s family and associates did contribute. Butterworth said Ridwan Dinata, Sundari Elnitiarta, Kent La, and Glenville Stuart gave money during the last week of July 1996 but their donations “were not associated with [given during] any event involving Governor Locke.”
“To our recollection, that’s correct,” said Locke.
La is Sioeng’s business associate, who has obtained immunity from the House committee. Stuart works in an LA liquor store. Dinata and Elnitiarta are Sioeng’s relatives. They and a woman named Slyvana Djojomartono, a manager at Sioeng’s LA hotel, gave Locke’s campaign $5,400, collected and sent in by Locke’s California fund raiser, David Lang. Locke recently returned $1,100 of it after being informed by committee probers that at least that much was probably laundered.
Last month, the Burton committee gave Locke a thumbs-up. He never “knowingly accepted illegal donations,” according to committee spokesman Will Dwyer. That ended another in a series of five past or current probes of Locke’s campaign finances—most relating to out-of-state fund raising. At least one IRS investigation continues, dating back to Locke’s earlier political campaigns for state legislator and King County executive.
The governor whom one aide calls a “Boy Scout” is not happy. He recently told a Seattle Times reporter, “I’m not about to go around asking every single person who contributes . . . ‘Are you a US citizen?’ . . . ‘Was this check reimbursed?'”
But that might be simpler.