Commerce pick Locke has ties to China cash
Commerce Secretary nominee Gary Locke, whose job would include approving sensitive exports to China, has performed legal work for companies doing business with Beijing and was forced to refund several political donations that he received in the 1990s from key figures in a Chinese influence-buying investigation.
Mr. Locke was the first Chinese-American to become governor when Washington state voters elected him in 1996, and he served two terms. Since leaving the governor’s mansion in 2005, Mr. Locke has been working with the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP as part of its China practice, which has offices in Shanghai.
On its Web page, www.dwt.com, the law firm says it has represented several staterun Chinese companies, including China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines and China Shipping as well as the Bank of China, BankOne, Boeing Co., Freightliner, Ford Motor Co., General Electric Capital Corp. and Microsoft Corp.
John A. Shaw, who held senior posts at the Defense, State and Commerce departments overseeing export controls and technology transfers from 1992 to 2004, said senators should question nominees about their past fundraising and views on hightechnology transfers to nations such as China.
“Commerce has total control over all dual-use technology and if there is a decision to open the commercial floodgates to China, Locke will be able to steamroll any military concerns coming from State and Defense,” Mr. Shaw said in an interview.
Meanwhile, President Obama on March 17 issued a waiver of a 1999 defense export-control law that will allow the transfer of U.S. high-technology goods to China. Mr. Obama stated in a notice to Congress that fine-grain graphite and aircraft composite gear will not “measurably improve [China’s] missile and space launch capabilities.”
Mr. Locke declined to comment while his nomination is pending. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Mr. Locke predominately worked for law clients who were U.S. companies doing business in China and the administration is confident he can avoid any conflicts of interests.
“As governor of the state of Washington and later as an attorney representing U.S. companies, Gary Locke opened markets and created opportunities for American businesses overseas — critical experience for any commerce secretary,” Mr. LaBolt said.
“We are confident that Governor Locke will be able to continue to advocate on behalf of American businesses and workers while at the same time adhering to the administration´s ethics policy,” he said.
As for the Clinton-era donations that Mr. Locke received from sources connected to the Chinese influence-peddling investigation, Mr. LaBolt said the nominee had long since refunded the money and was never implicated in any wrongdoing by congressional or Justice Department investigators.
Mr. Locke is Mr. Obama’s third choice for commerce secretary. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, withdrew from consideration after it was revealed that a grand jury is investigating illegal contracting in the state, and Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, withdrew over policy disputes with the administration.
Mr. Locke is not a registered lobbyist at Davis Wright, but the firm has made millions lobbying for several U.S. companies and also is registered as a foreign lobbyist.
Edward Timperlake, a former congressional investigator who worked on the 1990s fundraising probe, said the Senate should examine Mr. Locke’s ties to fundraisers like John Huang, Ted Sioeng and others who were identified during the 1990s investigation. That probe looked into whether Chinese government cash was illegally routed into Democratic coffers during President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign.
“The players connected to any examination of Locke and his confirmation are Triad gangsters and Chinese military agents,” Mr. Timperlake said in an interview.
The Pentagon’s last annual report on China’s military warned that China “continues a systematic effort to obtain dual-use and military technologies from abroad through legal and illegal commercial transactions.” It stated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement rated China’s aggressive and wide-ranging espionage as “the leading threat to U.S. technology.”
Mr. Huang was a Chineseborn employee of Indonesia’s Lippo Bank, who went to work for the Commerce Department and also became a major Demo- cratic Party fundraiser, collecting $3.4 million — nearly half of which had to be returned to donors because of suspicions that the money came from the Chinese government.
He sponsored several fundraisers for Mr. Locke in 1996, raising more than $30,000.
Mr. Huang pleaded guilty in 1999 in a deal with U.S. prosecutors to illegally giving $2,500 to Los Angeles mayoral candidate Michael Woo in 1993 and $5,000 to a California political group that raised money for Democratic candidates. Mr. Locke’s donations were not mentioned in the court case.
Mr. Sioeng, an Indonesian businessman who has ties to the Chinese government, also supplied funds to Mr. Locke through intermediaries, according to a congressional report on the campaign finance investigation. Mr. Sioeng fled the U.S. in the 1990s after the FBI began investigating.
He was never formally charged in the case, but congressional testimony from senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, identified him as a Chinese agent. They told a Senate committee that there was credible intelligence that Mr. Sioeng acted on behalf of China to influence U.S. elections with campaign contributions.
A spokesman for Mr. Sioeng denied the allegations at the time.
Records show Mr. Sioeng’s bank account got wire transfers of more than $2 million from two Hong Kong holding companies at the same time that he was contributing to Mr. Clinton’s re-election campaign.
Connections in question: Ex-Washington Gov. Gary Locke works at a Seattle law firm with offices and clients in China.