Idaho Democrats are alleging Helen Chenoweth’s rise to power in the 1994 election was aided by illegal campaign money from Hong Kong.
The claims arise from a Washington Post story Monday that traces $1.6 million in contributions from Hong Kong banker Ambrous Tung Young to the National Policy Forum, a think tank chaired by Haley Barbour, who was also the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The same day the $1.6 million came to the RNC, the Idaho Republican Party received $50,000. Another $20,000 followed within two weeks.
The timing is too coincidental to be anything but a transfer of the Hong Kong dollars to Idaho, said Larry LaRocco, who was defeated by Chenoweth in 1994.
“This is a national story, and when you follow the money, it comes right down to Idaho,” LaRocco said. LaRocco said he believes the money was used for a last-minute voter registration effort that provided Chenoweth much of her 21,000-vote margin of victory.
Not so, counters Andrew Arulanandam, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party. The timing is nothing more than coincidence.
LaRocco is “still looking for a scapegoat for his defeat,” Arulanandam said.
The question may get national attention on Friday. RNC Chairman Barbour is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate committee investigating illegal campaign contributions.
Whether Chenoweth benefited from the money or not, the Republicans have an obligation to make the situation right, said Karen White, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party.
After an internal audit, the Democratic National Committee found and returned $2.8 million in illegal campaign contributions from the 1994 and 1996 elections.
“The DNC has returned its foreign contributions, the RNC hasn’t,” White said. “We now have Hong Kong infecting Idaho politics and that’s completely illegal and completely unethical.”
The Democrats obviously are excited to find what they believe is their John Huang. Huang is the Democratic Party fund raiser who allegedly raised untold amounts of illegal contributions from the Chinese.
His alleged misdeeds are central to the Senate Committee’s investigation.
Idaho Democrats have some high-profile national help in making their case. U.S. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, is calling the Young financing disclosure the only cases “where the head of a national political party knowingly and successfully solicited foreign money, infused it into the election process and intentionally tried to cover it up,” the Washington Post reported.
Young is a Hong Kong businessman whose Coral Gables, Fla., company put up $1.6 million to back a loan to the National Policy Forum, the arm of the RNC. Last year the Policy Forum defaulted on the loan and the bank went after the certificates of deposit that Young put up.
The RNC says it believed the money came from a U.S. company.
“I had no idea there would be foreign money in the race against me,” said LaRocco. “Seventy thousand dollars is a powerful amount of money to spend late in a campaign and it’s an outrage.”
The Idaho Secretary of State’s office says 17,054 voters in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District were registered the day of the 1994 election. LaRocco attributes that to a well-organized Republican effort he suspects was financed by the lastminute Republican infusion.
That’s unlikely considering LaRocco lost by 21,000 votes, said Graham Paterson, a Chenoweth campaign official. “It’s a bogus analysis.”
The money “is a coincidence,” added Arulanandam of the state Republican Party. It takes weeks for the RNC to issue a check, even if the election was barely weeks away.
He dismisses the Democrats’ call for the state Republicans to return the money if the RNC won’t do the honorable thing. “There has yet to be a ruling on our deal,” he said.
And Barbour is going to testify voluntarily, whereas Huang wants limited immunity.
“This is another classic case of Republicans coming forward and Democrats hiding,” Arulanandam said.
If that’s the case, why won’t Chenoweth disclose the names of an ample list of small contributors from the 1994 election? Her campaign office wouldn’t say.
Arulanandam gave a philosophical response.
“Keep in mind that she abided by the law.”