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Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Barbour On The Hot Seat

Democrats will go after ex-RNC chair today

By Brooks Jackson/CNN


WASHINGTON (July 24) -- Last fall, nobody roasted Democrats over their Asian connection more hotly than Republican chairman Haley Barbour. On CNN's "Crossfire" show, Barbour said, "They are violating the current law, violating it repeatedly ..."

But now it's the Democrats' turn to roast Barbour, over $2.1 million from Hong Kong. Barbour is scheduled to testify at today's session of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, as it continues its probe into campaign finance abuses in the 1996 elections.

Sen. John Glenn, the ranking Democrat on the panel, has set the tone for the Democrats attack. "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," Glenn says.

Democrats are focusing on the National Policy Forum, the Republican think tank that Barbour once operated a few blocks from Republican headquarters in Washington.

In a 1993 memo to big party donors, Barbour said, "The Republican National Committee is creating (the Forum) as an issue development subsidiary ...."


But as the 1994 elections neared the forum had become a financial black hole. The RNC had loaned millions to the forum to pay for its conferences and conservative publications.

Then came a $2.1 million bail-out from Hong Kong, and a shadowy businessman named Ambrous Tung Young.

Young transferred money from his Hong Kong headquarters to his Florida subsidiary, Young Brothers USA. It transferred the money to Signet Bank in Virginia, to back up a $2.1 million loan to Barbour's National Policy Forum. The forum in turn paid $1.6 million back to the RNC, just as it was pouring money into get-out-the-vote efforts for the 1994 elections.

So was the Republican victory that year partly financed in Hong Kong?

Young's lobbyist Richard Richards wrote Barbour last year saying Young made the loan specifically "to assist you in capturing some targeted congressional seats."

During the Republican convention last year Young asked the RNC to repay the loan, but Barbour refused and an angry Young wrote off more than $700,000 this year.

But recently, embarrassed Republicans did give back more than $120,000 that he'd donated to the party directly -- and illegally -- through that same Florida company of his.

The once-talkative Barbour has avoided interviews lately. In his testimony he's expected to say the policy forum was legally separate, not a "subsidiary" of the RNC as he once described it. And he'll say it was perfectly legal for the think tank to take money from Hong Kong, even if much of that money did end up in the Republican party's bank account.

Along with Barbour, today's other scheduled witness is Republican fund-raiser Frederick Volcansek, who brokered the $2.1 million loan for the forum.

The hearings resume at 10 a.m. EDT, and Barbour is not expected to testify until after lunch.

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