A Thai business group linked to the spreading controversy over Democratic campaign contributions helped fund a trade trip by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., to Thailand last November.
The 12-day trip to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia was partially paid for by the US-Thailand Business Council, Gorton’s press secretary, Melissa Dollaghan, confirmed Friday.
The group was founded in 1994 by Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman who lives in Virginia, and John Huang, a former Commerce Department official and fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee. Huang is at the center of several investigations into possible campaign donation irregularities.
While Gorton was in Asia, the Democratic National Committee returned $235,000 in donations to Kanchanalak after deciding some of them may have been improper.
Dollaghan said Gorton had no idea the US-Thailand Business Council and Kanchanalak had any involvement with Democratic fund-raising problems when he made the trip.
“Obviously he wasn’t aware of any improprieties,” she said. “We went through all the official approval channels.”
Dollaghan said that included checking with the Senate Ethics Committee, which approved the trip and found no problems with those who were paying for it.
Accompanying Gorton were representatives of several Washington businesses, though Dollaghan, who was attending a Gorton staff retreat in LaConner, wasn’t sure which ones.
“The idea was to discuss trade,” she said.
In addition to the US-Thailand Business Council, those picking up the tab for the trip included the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce, the Asia Pacific Policy Center and the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Dollaghan said.
Such privately funded trade and fact-finding trips are allowed under Senate rules.
The US-Thailand Business Council also helped pay the expenses of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., then-Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, who is now secretary of defense, and Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported earlier this week.
The US-Thailand Business Council was formed to promote trade between the two countries, and its members include more than three dozen Fortune 500 companies.
Karl Jackson, the president of the council, told Roll Call the lawmakers’ trip was initially discussed during a White House coffee on June 18. Among those attending were Huang, Kanchanalak and several Chinese businessmen.
Huang, who raised millions of dollars for the Democrats from Asian-Americans, has been under investigation by House and Senate committees.
On Thursday, Huang refused to turn over documents subpoenaed by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, claiming a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Meanwhile, Kanchanalak, who reportedly is traveling in Asia, instructed her lawyer not to receive service on a Senate subpoena for business records.