Blasts from the past in the 2016 campaign season, with a touch of anti-Asian xenophobia
In 1996, Asian Americans suffered from what I dubbed our ACDC problem: The Asian Campaign Donation Controversy.
And it definitely disrupted Asian American involvement in the U.S. political process for at least a decade.
So when CNN reported this week that the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit was looking at Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign contributions, I had to laugh.
In an era of unbridled and obscene amounts of money pouring in from Super PACS and corporate sources to U.S. campaigns, and the Justice Department chooses to pick on Terry McAuliffe?
But then CNN reported on one of his specific donations that raised a “red” flag, so to speak.
It was $120,000 to McAuliffe from several companies controlled by Chinese businessman, Wang Wenliang.
Wang was also reported to have been a delegate to China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s ceremonial legislature.
And then it was all clear.
Just like the intense racial profiling of Chinese American scientists that we’ve seen recently, we’re now getting the same sort of thing from the Justice Department when it comes to campaign donations.
A foreign donor? From China? With Communist Party connections?
Where’s that Trump Wall when we really need one, right?
Of course, the Justice Department and the FBI aren’t saying anything further on this leaked story.
But do we really need anything more? For today’s mud-slinging politicos, the damage is done.
McAuliffe gets put in the same paragraph as a “questionable” Chinese donor (audible gasps heard here).
Doesn’t matter that McAuliffe declares his innocence and tells reporters he’s “shocked” by the leak.
It doesn’t even matter if Wang, the donor, is said to be a permanent U.S. resident, which makes his donations perfectly legal.
What matters is that the news will resonate with the target audience of xenophobic voters in Virginia who need a little reinforcement as to why they shouldn’t re-elect a guy like Gov. McAuliffe, a Democrat and friend of Bill and Hillary, and at least a donor buddy of a certain Mr. Wang.
And while McAuliffe will likely get touched up in the campaign, Asians and Asian Americans are likely to feel the sting even more.
That’s the way it goes.
Welcome to the low road of politics, where Asian Americans are collateral damage.
It’s getting to be the new M.O. this political season, and everything old is new again.
No doubt, Donald Trump and Republicans are likely to use the Asian donor news to bash McAuliffe.
If you haven’t noticed, Trump has brought up all the old issues this week, as if there’s not enough real stuff to talk about in the campaign.
So just in case you missed it, or were in a pre-embryonic, zygotic political state when this news was dismissed the first time around, Trump has been talking tastelessly about the suicide of former Clinton aide Vincent Foster and dredging up Monica Lewinsky.
Unfortunately, recalling the past has become the new hip campaign approach. It doesn’t matter if the facts are discredited or a matter is resolved. Trump thinks you need to relive all of it.
It’s like binge watching the first seasons of the Kardashians just so you really understand why they’re as screwed up as they are.
You wouldn’t want a candidate cum reality star like Trump to talk about real things like race relations, climate change, or college debt, would you?
And now this anti-Asian thing, another blast from the past.
In December 1996, a number of individuals made up our ACDC problem.
There was Charlie Trie, a Little Rock restaurant owner and long time potsticker pal of then-Gov. Bill Clinton, who solicited nearly $640,000 from questionable foreign sources for Clinton’s legal defense fund.
It was returned.
Trie also got Wang Jun, the head of a Chinese gun manufacturer, a meeting with Clinton. Wang’s company, Poly Technologies, was under investigation at the time for smuggling 2,000 Chinese-made AK-47s into the U.S.
Not the kind of F.O.B. (“Friend of Bill”) the DNC was looking for.
And there was Democratic fundraiser John Huang, who was part of an aggressive DNC campaign to get donations from the Asian American community. Somehow that included James and Mochtar Riady of the Indonesian-based Lippo banking conglomerate. Huang raised $3 million in 1997, and more than half of that was returned as questionable.
The aggressive fundraising was bad enough.
But the few examples encouraged the kind of scrutiny that verged on profiling and, at times, was just racist. All things Asian were looked at with suspicion.
It was enough to taint all Asian American large donors, according to a source familiar with the situation. Many were forced to undergo more extreme scrutiny and auditing than campaign donors who were not Asian American.
It was so bad that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found unfair impacts to Asian Americans. Not just to donors, but to the community’s overall involvement and integration into the U.S. political mainstream, from donors to office holders at the highest levels.
It even led to further scrutiny of donations with any connection to China at all. When Clinton donor Bernard Schwartz, chair of Loral Space & Communications, sold technology to China in the ’90s, serious questions were raised about whether his hundreds of thousands in campaign donations enabled this business deal.
One source close to the situation says that case was the genesis of the scrutiny Chinese American scientists now face when they are viewed with suspicion as spies.
And Gov. Terry McAuliffe?
He was the DNC chair from 2001 to 2005 and well aware of campaign finance law.
So who knows exactly what the Justice Department is up to now as it investigates the governor.
It all seems in keeping with the revival of the past.
The problem is that it’s likely to hurt an entire community far more than a politician like McAuliffe.
That’s what happens when the governor’s opponents add a little xenophobia to the mud they sling.