State campaign watchdogs are scrutinizing contributions Gov. Gary Locke received from members of a Buddhist temple, including a $5,000 cash donation from the temple’s grand master during one of Locke’s four visits.
The Democratic governor’s 1996 campaign committee previously has admitted violating campaign finance laws during two out-of-state fund-raisers last year. The committee signed an agreement with Public Disclosure Commission investigators in October acknowledging violations involving about $5,300 from 23 donors.
The PDC is expected to levy a fine at its meeting Tuesday. The maximum penalty is $2,500. The latest investigation will not be discussed by the panel until a report is ready, Susan Harris, PDC assistant director for enforcement, said Friday.
Locke said he has turned over all records involving the $13,070 he received during the campaign from members of the Ling Sheng Ching Tze Temple in Redmond near the Microsoft campus.
The probe apparently centers around a $5,000 cash contribution that Locke acknowledges he received in a red envelope from the grand master, Lu Sheng-Yen, but says he returned.
Cash gifts are limited to $55 without a receipt. If the donor is identified, the limit is $2,200 for a primary and general election campaign for governor.
Locke said he took the envelope and when he opened it later was amazed.
“It was large denominations. I counted it and I had never seen that much cash before in my life,” he told The Seattle Times.
He said he asked aides to return the cash and didn’t give it another thought until Vice President Al Gore got into trouble for fund-raising at a Buddhist temple near Los Angeles. Nuns told a congressional committee that members had been laundering campaign donations since 1993.
Locke said he ordered a review.
“When the national news stories about Vice President Gore’s fund-raising issues were raised, we felt we had to double-check to make sure that the people who made contributions (from the temple) had the means to do so,” he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
He was referring to the state law that forbids individuals from making contributions on behalf of another person or entity. Also, church political activity is restricted by federal laws covering tax-exempt organizations.
Another issue is whether it was proper for the $5,000 cash donation returned by Locke to be quickly replaced by five $1,000 checks from Lu, his wife, his son and two people who listed their occupation as church administrators at the temple.
The commission launched its most recent investigation following publication of a column suggesting that some of the money Locke got from temple members was not their own and perhaps came from temple accounts. That would be illegal.
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