A top adviser to Speaker Newt Gingrich was largely responsible for obtaining a suspect $50,000 donation to a Republican think tank that Democrats plan to bring before a Senate committee investigating campaign fund raising.
John Bolton, former president of the National Policy Forum, has testified that GOP consultant Joseph Gaylord, Gingrich’s closest adviser on political matters, helped secure the donation to the forum in July 1995.
The $50,000 donation may come under scrutiny this week as the hearing on campaign fund-raising abuses shifts focus to Republicans after two weeks with Democratic problems in the spotlight.
The source of the money was a California company owned by an Indonesian businessman who reportedly has close ties to China.
“We certainly intend to pursue it,” a Democratic investigator on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee said, even though the businessman and his daughter gave far more - $250,000 - to the Democratic National Committee.
The National Policy Forum, now defunct, is among a handful of tax-exempt groups investigators have been inspecting for evidence of misuse for political purposes. The group was founded by former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour, who will be called as a witness next week.
Forum documents suggest it was closely aligned to the Republican National Committee. Barbour insists it was a separate organization that was permitted to - and did - accept foreign contributions.
Bolton was president of the forum from January 1995 through the end of last year, when it went out of existence.
In his testimony, he told the committee that Gaylord “was paid a consulting fee by NPF to raise money, which he wasn’t doing.”
“Panda Enterprises was the first contribution that came in under his auspices,” Bolton said. “I looked at Panda Enterprises and asked what it was.”
Gaylord, while close to Gingrich, is not a federal employee. He did not return a call to his office about his fund-raising role and the $50,000 contribution.
The Los Angeles Times has reported that on July 17, $50,000 was transferred by wire from an undetermined source to the bank account of Panda, a California import-export company founded by Indonesian businessman San Wong “Ted” Sioeng, 51, and his 30-year-old daughter, Jessica Elnitiarta.
The next day, Elnitiarta, a permanent U.S. resident, wrote a check for $50,000 from the company to the policy forum. The Times quoted one of her attorneys, Mark J. MacDougall, as saying she made no political contributions on behalf of, or at the direction of, foreign governments.
Investigators are checking whether the money was connected to China. In April, California’s state treasurer, Republican Matt Fong, returned $100,000 in campaign contributions from Sioeng and Panda Enterprises because the businessman could not document its origins.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Sioeng, who may have left the country, has a close relationship to Chinese officials. It said he has an exclusive franchise to distribute China’s most popular brand of cigarettes and owns a pro-Beijing Chinese-language newspaper in Monterey Park, Calif.
Barbour said previously he was directing inquiries into the source of the $50,000 given to the National Policy Forum. “We have also notified the proper federal authorities,” he said.
Gingrich comes into the case peripherally. A few days after the contribution, the speaker dropped in on an Asian-American businessmen’s meeting at a Los Angeles hotel. Sioeng was among the participants.
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