Enriching politics at country's expense Campaign finance: Political influence from Chinese donations requires thorough investigation.


THE DEPARTURE of former U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's investigation of foreign campaign contributions reduces its credibility.

Speaker Newt Gingrich has transferred the probe to another committee, away from Illinois Republican Rep. Dan Burton, but he must convince the people that this is not merely a partisan battle. Mr. Bennett was the man for the job.

The export of space technology to China, started in the Bush administration and expanded in the Clinton administration, deserves examination by Congress. So does the influence of campaign contributions that might have originated in China's government.

The House of Representatives reacted to news of the China connection with overwhelming bipartisan votes to ban export of commercial satellites to China. This was after Johnny Chung said that he had funneled money from the Chinese military into Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.

Add to this Pentagon fears that help provided to Chinese satellite launching would also help China target U.S. cities with its missiles and you understand the haste in the House.

While Chinese authorities deny the accusation a much larger donation to the Clinton campaign by the chairman of Loral Space and Communications, one of several U.S. firms working with China, is undisputed. No nefarious Chinese influence is needed to explain President Clinton's waiver allowing the export of the satellite, given the crisis here when a malfunctioning satellite knocked out millions of pagers explains the rush to put commercial satellites on relatively cheap Chinese launchers when NASA is not meeting the demands.

Republican lawmakers demanding investigations to target the Democratic president must examine campaign financing, too. They raise more money than Democrats, some of it very likely foreign.

Foreign contributions and possible influence on policy comprise the most serious scandal of the Clinton administration. The problem will grow, regardless of the party in power. In this global economy, if business contributes unlimited soft money to political campaigns, it will not be 100-percent U.S. business.

Serious congressional investigations are needed. So far, though, voters have no assurance that House and Senate probes will be thorough enough.

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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