Monday, September 17, 2007

Hsu Donors Without A Clue

Yesterday, the questions regarding the Hsu fundraising scandal just seem to get bigger.
To raise $850,000 for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign in just eight months, Norman Hsu tapped an eclectic group of donors that included wealthy investors in his apparel ventures, hotel shopkeepers, a 96-year-old in a Florida retirement home and an auto-body worker who mistakenly thought he would get a tax break for his political generosity.

The Clinton campaign has not yet released any information about the 260 donors whose contributions it is now refunding because they were credited to the prodigious fundraising of the former fugitive, but a detailed analysis of donors Hsu brought to Clinton shows that he tapped many Asian American donors in California and New York, including complete strangers as well as his relatives. He also raised political funds from people who had already invested large sums in his private business ventures.

Some donors among the nearly 100 identified this week said they never met Hsu and did not know that their donations had been credited to his fundraising. Others had trouble explaining why they gave the funds to Clinton or could not recall the circumstances in which they met Hsu.

"He called me and asked me if I'd give $1,000. . . . I don't know how you'd say we struck up a relationship. I just knew him," said Henry Rosenberg, a New York City lawyer. Asked if he wanted Clinton, New York's junior senator, to be the next president, Rosenberg said: "I don't know. He just asked me to do it, and I did."
The Hsu matter is shedding a light on some of the big time fundraising efforts behind modern campaigns.

These campaigns live and die on funding. While most small donor contributors give based on a desire to see that candidate win, large money donors apparently give more out of a need to maintain a friendship or business relationship. While it is illegal to compel a donor to give to a specific candiate, the pressure for the people connected to the powerful is intense. Rosenberg is symptomatic of the fundraising pressure. The pressure is also felt by guys like Hsu (not to excuse his behavior), those closest to the candidates have intense pressure to find and recruit donors and fundraisers themselves. The more they raise, the more cachet they have with the candidate and ironically, the more pressure that is applied to raise money.

What is odd about Hsu is how quickly he became a top fundraiser. Within a span of four years, he went from a veritable unknown to a rainmaker. His connections to the Clinton camp are an ongoing source of embarassment, but one that has many more questions than answers. Leaving aside the apparent inability or unwillingness of the Clinton campaign to
do a background check, there is the question of why a convicted felon and one on the lam from the law, was permitted to come close to Hillary Clinton (who is under Secret Service Protection)? While the campaign can overrule the Secret Service on some matters related to protection, surely the Secret Service knew that Hsu was being sought on an outstanding warrant and that information was passed to the campaign. Of course, we are not likely to know since Secret Service policy is not to discuss or disclose matters related to personal security.

To say that some of the donations don't pass the smell test, although they may indeed be legal, is a minor understatment. But what is puzzling is the delay in the Clinton camp to release the names of individuals who will be receiving refunds. the longer they wait, the more time the press has to dig into this matter and the more damage it will do to the campaign. Will it derail the campaign, no--probably not. But it will make people question whether or not Hillary Clinton has the ethics to be president.

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