Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Asian American Clinton donor at center of controversy

Shades of the 1996 campaign come home to roost, flickering in the eyes of our neighbors, ourselves.

In 1996, the scandal surrounding Asian American donors, focused on John Huang, a Democratic rainmaker, to Bill Clinton's first campaign who were purported to be directing funds from China into the US to influence trade decisions, was the impetus for a lot of APIA political organizing. It was around that time that we got our first ever DNC APIA DNC Outreach Director, and that many of the APIA nonprofits were formed.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign said yesterday that it would give to charity $23,000 it had received from a prominent Democratic donor, and review thousands of dollars more that he had raised, after learning that the authorities in California had a warrant for his arrest stemming from a 1991 fraud case.

Stephen Schwartz

Norman Hsu with Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2005.

The donor, Norman Hsu, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Democratic candidates since 2003, and was slated to be co-host next month for a Clinton gala featuring the entertainer Quincy Jones.

The event would not have been unusual for Mr. Hsu, a businessman from Hong Kong who moves in circles of power and influence, serving on the board of a university in New York and helping to bankroll Democratic campaigns.

But what was not widely known was that Mr. Hsu, who is in the apparel business in New York, has been considered a fugitive since he failed to show up in a San Mateo County courtroom about 15 years ago to be sentenced for his role in a scheme to defraud investors, according to the California attorney general’s office.

Mr. Hsu had pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft and was facing up to three years in prison. (NYTimes)

The thing is, apparently Clinton's opponents have been trying to paint this as the same thing as the 96 scandal, and it's not. But when the donor happens to be Asian American, the public and press see motives as suspect, foreign, other. Perpetually typecast, we are the source of suspicious motives and the subject of intense scrutiny, without having real accessible power. Hsu seems like just a bundler, someone who likes donating money to get photographs with politicians that he can stick on his walls. It doesn't seem like he is funneling money from China into the US.

I guess that the media and certain people will always try to paint with broad strikes, but the difference between then and now was that back then, Mike Honda was running for the State Assembly. Today he is a vice chair of the DNC. Back then the numbers of APIA electeds were microscopic, and today, as much as I complain, our numbers have increased, and we're getting elected in Texas (thank you Hubert Vo!), in Idaho, in Louisiana (thank you Bobby Jindal?!?), in red states and in blue states. We are the new face of the Democratic party, and we are running for office, as well as running campaigns.

Increasingly, our community is seeing political success as one measure of community success, as the generations mature and Americanize further. And we are getting more sophisticated, so that we learn to make asks more significant than a signed photo together with Candidate X. One of the more frustrating parts about the 1996 case is not just how it was handled by the press, but also within the party - "Asian" money became suspect, and candidates edged further away from APIA fundraisers. APIA staff were marginalized within campaigns.

Here's a quote from a 1996 NYTimes article (archived, behind firewall):

Added Angela Oh, a Korean-American lawyer from Los Angeles and a participant at the Washington breakfast: ''What I resent bitterly is that the media and some politicians deliberately failed to distinguish between Asians and Asian-Americans in this scandal. No matter how I succeed, or try, because I have almond eyes, high cheekbones and dark hair, I'm always seen as a foreigner. You know it's there.''

So no, I don't like the way some campaigns are trying to spin this. And I'll also say that I don't even necessarily favor Hillary, but that whatever campaign (R or D) starts the 1996 drumbeats, it is SO on. We're not going to take it this time, and we don't have to since we have more public officials who will call you out across the country. If a campaign is stupid enough to alienate our growing and highly-educated population, we're going to make sure that the idiot candidate and their idiot advisers feel the burn. Whoever starts throwing those rocks is going to drive APIA volunteers, donors, influentials, and voters away en masse to Hillary.

I will not have our growing political consciousness halted by the actions of a few people, and I will not let our democracy be silenced.

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