I'm calling Bill Clinton a crook

Ross Perot's running mate says the Democrats' foreign money scandal is Watergate all over again

By Fred Branfman

Published November 1, 1996 11:23AM (EST)

Suddenly, Ross Perot has become a factor in the presidential election. Thanks largely to his stinging attacks on President Clinton's "character" problems  he has warned of impeachment proceedings in a second Clinton term  the Reform Party candidate's standing in the polls has risen beyond low single digits. While Perot's rise is probably not enough to affect the outcome of the presidential race, it may impact voting margins and could affect the outcome in some congressional races. Perot's attacks have also helped keep media attention on the various ethics allegations against Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, and encouraged the Dole campaign to wage similar attacks in the closing days of the campaign.

In an interview with Salon, Perot's running mate, Pat Choate, said Perot would make campaign finance reform his near-exclusive focus during a two-hour prime-time broadcast that will run on ABC, CBS and NBC on election eve Monday night. Speaking by cell phone from the campaign trail, Choate said the Perot forces would launch the same kind of massive effort to pass campaign reform in coming years that they used to promote deficit reduction in years past.

Pat Choate was for many years a highly respected economic policy analyst whose advice was sought by both Democrats and Republicans. His controversial 1990 book, "Agents of Influence," was a damning indictment of the role of foreign  especially Japanese  financial lobbying in American politics.

In your book, you predicted that foreign interests would spend as much money on U.S. political campaigns as the Republican and Democratic parties.

It has happened. Foreign influence has gone beyond simple policy-making
into the election process itself. Other nations that have a tradition of
bribery can now come into our political system and do the same.

The examples you cited were mostly Japanese. Now we're hearing about Indonesian interests, like the Lippo group. How are they "agents of influence"?

The Lippo Group has in effect became a privatized diplomatic service
for Indonesia. They got the U.S. to ignore Indonesia's human rights abuses while granting it the Generalized System of Preferences  that is, low trade tariffs that we make available to developing nations. That's worth about $650 million
a year to Indonesia. Meanwhile, our overall trade deficit with Indonesia has
doubled over the past 36 months to about $12 billion.

What does the Lippo Group get out of it?

Increased prestige back home that they use to make business deals with [Indonesian President] Suharto and others. And they got the Clinton administration to use the good offices of the U.S. to help them cut a billion-dollar deal for a power plant in China, together with their Louisiana partner. This is bargain-basement bribery. In Indonesia they'll pay a million bucks just to get into a good golf club, and here they only had to raise $850,000 for Clinton.

You're essentially saying that U.S. foreign policy is for sale.

Let's take another example of what's for sale: the Taiwanese connection.
What you have is an old-time pal of Clinton from Arkansas representing the
U.S. liaison mission [James C. Wood, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan] there, who is really serving as our Ambassador. And he
takes John Huang [an official with the Democratic National Committee] and a fund-raiser who had just left the White House, and they go and shake down Taiwanese business people for campaign contributions.

They did it last spring when we were having trouble with the Chinese, who
wanted two things. They wanted American ships in the area, which they got.
And they wanted a statement in the platform of the Democratic Party that we
would keep ships in the China Sea. And they got that. The sad thing is that our guys are not only crooks, but they're incompetent crooks who don't even know how to price their services.

Who are you calling a crook exactly?

I'm calling John Huang a crook. I'm calling the people who are doing the
fund-raising at the DNC crooks. And I'm calling Bill Clinton a crook.

How do you justify calling President Clinton a crook?

Those are illegal contributions. John Huang was cutting a deal with a
Korean firm, and its representative said he had to meet with President Clinton
before he'd give the money [to the Democratic National Committee]. So Huang arranged the meeting. The President closed the deal by having a private meeting and shaking hands with the guy. But this guy was a foreign national working for a foreign corporation with no entities inside this country. It was illegal. When the Los Angeles Times blew the whistle six months later, the DNC gave the money back. But it doesn't erase the crime. I mean, if you steal somebody's car, and you get caught and say "okay, you can have the car back," that doesn't clear you of the crime.

And Huang?

What is the propriety of going from a foreign corporation into the
Department of Commerce, where you're taking actions that regulate the
business of that corporation, and then going back into the DNC? The propriety
is this: it's criminal. I'd appoint a special prosecutor, I'd bring these people before a grand jury, and if they're indicted and convicted, I'd send them to prison.
These are criminal violations of the campaign laws. This is Watergate all
over again. This is the same sort of nonsense that Maurice Stans [the GOP 1972 campaign treasurer] and Dick Nixon were doing.

Is there more than just foreign money at the root of these alleged evils?

Yes, the massive laundering of the money from the Republican National Committee and the DNC into the campaigns. It's the Common Cause complaint, and it touches both Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. When Clinton and Dole agreed to take public money to finance their campaigns, they signed a pledge that they would neither solicit, take nor use the special interest money the parties collected for their campaigns. This "soft money" 
massive and largely unregulated  is only supposed to be used for issues "education" and for party-building. But Clinton and Done have used it for political advocacy. Both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, for example, used the
same ad people, and Clinton himself cleared the ads financed by soft money.

The Republicans did exactly the same thing. The GOP-controlled House is equally to
blame. It's totally out of hand, totally out of hand. It was quite literally
because of their "anything goes" milieu that the foreigners have been able
to get in. You literally had [Rep.]Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), Newt Gingrich and the Republican House majority sitting down with domestic lobbyists behind closed doors and
drafting the legislation, bringing it late at night to the Rules Committee,
cancelling the rules, and then jamming bills that no one understood through
the House.

What can we do about all this?

The first step is to pass a one-sentence constitutional amendment
that says Congress is empowered to regulate the expenditure of monies in
federal elections. That will takes care of all of these "First Amendment"
court decisions that have made a mockery of campaign finance reform.

Then you say the media has to give certain blocks of time to the candidates.
You only make the public monies available 120 days before the campaign,
instead of 10 months. That takes care of about 85 percent of
the problem right there for Presidential campaigns.

Next, you bring in partial public financing for all House and Senate primary races and full public financing in the general elections. You only allow
people who can vote to make political contributions, banning funding by
resident aliens. You ban soft money contributions to the political parties
 make them rely on small contributions from large numbers of people, the way
a representative democracy is supposed to work.

In "Agents of Influence," you also raised the issue of the revolving door, where you have influence-peddlers moving between corporations, government and the political

I would ban all cabinet secretaries or their deputies from working as
lobbyists upon leaving government for any interest, foreign or domestic. And
I would have a five-year cooling-off period for all lower-ranking officials.

What about the argument that such restrictions will keep
talented people from going into government service?

That's nonsense. It's because of today's lax standards that many good
people don't want to come in. They just get blocked out. Look how this
Administration filled its positions out of the money-raisers and the campaign
staff, the Mickey Kantors, the Ron Browns, etc. What we really need are
talented people who are interested in public service. Anybody who says you
can't get good people is literally saying that only lobbyists and insiders
and hustlers would serve. They just simply don't know Americans.

Ross Perot has focused on a number of issues in the last few years, from
the budget deficit to NAFTA. Where do you see campaign finance
reform ranking in his priorities after the election?

It' s the number one issue before the election, it's the number one issue after the
election. We have a political system that represents the major funders and not
the American people. Representative democracy as we know it is essentially
gone. House members have got to raise $660,000 and Senators $4 million to run
for office, and they get the money from the special interests that fund both
parties. That's who they work for. And as long as that's true, you can't have an honest discussion about a national health care system, trade policy, a post-Soviet defense policy, saving entitlement programs, having an equitable tax system. You can't have an
honest discussion about anything without campaign reform.

It would seem that the only way to pass campaign reform is to move hard
and fast right after the election, before everyone forgets it again.

That's why I think the special prosecutor is going to be key here. Because
that will keep it in front of the public. If the Republicans retain either
chamber, we'll have investigations.

Quote of the day

Into the vortex

"What we are seeing is more than humanitarian disaster  it is the tearing up of the
Geneva Convention. International law is being flouted on a massive scale. The refugees and the displaced are being denied the right to protection and assistance enshrined in the convention  not only by the warring parties but by all those nations who have signed the convention."

 The British aid agency Oxfam, on the refugee crisis in Zaire, which it says presages a "firestorm of instability" in central Africa. (From "New fighting erupts in Zaire, Refugee crisis could reach historic proportions," in a report Friday on Cable News Network)

Fred Branfman

Fred Branfman can be reached at Fredbranfman@aol.com. His Web site is www.trulyalive.org.

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