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Jewish World Review June 7, 2000 /4 Sivan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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Consumer Reports

"Pained" Dem leader Torricelli deserves to feel some; Why hasn't he? -- THE NEWS WAS BURIED deep in last Saturday's edition of the New York Times:

"A New Jersey political donor with mysterious sources of income and connections that reached into the White House and both political parties pleaded guilty in federal court in Newark yesterday to charges of illegally channeling $53,700 into the 1996 campaign of Senator Robert G. Torricelli."

Why wasn't this on the Sunday front page? And where was the foaming New York Times editorial condemning campaign finance corruption?

Sen. Torricelli of New Jersey is no back-bench politician. He's the Democratic Party's chief moneyman, political talk-show regular, and vice presidential wannabe. Nor is David Chang, the donor who admitted to five misdemeanor election-law crimes and one felony count of obstruction of justice, an obscure contributor. He's a Beijing-born, Rolls Royce-driving commodities trader who has dined with President Clinton, garnered personal references from former President George Bush, and funneled nearly $300,000 into American elections over the last seven years.

Yet, in much the same manner that Vice President Al Gore continues to embrace convicted campaign-finance felon Maria Hsia as his "friend" while avoiding any responsibility for the illicit nature of his friendship with her, Torricelli persists in calling Chang his "friend" while eschewing blame for the donor's criminal conduct.

And none of the media's top campaign ethics mavens seem to mind.

The watchdogs often moan about the "complexity" of campaign finance laws. Chang broke the most basic rules: He made contributions to the Torricelli campaign that exceeded individual limits. He made illegal corporate donations. He made secret donations in the name of others. He illegally reimbursed the straw donors. And he obstructed justice by pressuring one of his former employees to lie to a grand jury investigating allegations of campaign finance law-breaking in the 1996 elections.

Torricelli and Bubba:
Need we say more?

Birds of a feather wade in murky waters together. Torricelli, however, says he didn't know what his good buddy and supporter was doing and shouldn't be held accountable. Why not? It was Torricelli who appointed Chang to his 1996 campaign finance committee even though Chang had made $12,000 in illegal contributions to former California Rep. Jay Kim in 1992. Kim, a Republican, later plead guilty to accepting and hiding $230,000 in illegal donations from Korean companies and left Congress in disgrace.

Torricelli, by contrast, is coated with industrial-strength Teflon. Six Torricelli donors including Chang are under scrutiny by the same Justice Department task force investigating the Clinton-Gore donorgate scandal. But Torricelli himself is not a target. Why not?

The probe is reportedly examining whether money from Asia was laundered into the Torricelli campaign.Given that Chang conducted exclusive business with the communist regime in North Korea, investigating foreign influence is imperative. Instead of supporting the task force, however, Torricelli waxed indignantly about racial discrimination. The American Prospect magazine reported recently that Torricelli claims "any accusations of foreign money laundering leveled at Chang are motivated by prejudice because he 'happens to be of a different race.'"

Chang played that card, too until last week. Now that he has 'fessed up, it's time to put the spotlight back on the man who hired him to raise funds: What role, if any, did Torricelli play in approving Chang's illegal campaign activities? Did he knowingly facilitate the subversion of the American electoral process and recklessly jeopardize national security?

And why does Torricelli deserve any benefit of the doubt in this matter?

Recall that three years ago, Torricelli condemned aggressive investigations of campaign finance irregularities involving Asian-American donors by likening it to the "pain" he and other Italian-Americans felt from the organized crime hearings under former Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver. "It is among the first memories I have of government of the United States, and probably the first hearing of the United States Senate I ever witnessed. It was only on a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it," Torricelli said.

Torricelli was only 5 days old when the committee hearings ended on Aug. 31, 1951. When he was questioned about the whopper, he condemned the press for dwelling on a "trivial" inaccuracy. The outrage isn't that Torricelli got away with a small lie, but that the watchdogs are now too lazy, jaded, biased, or scared to question him about the campaign crimes that threaten our democratic process most.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate