The Democratic National Committee's handling of questions about $425,000 in political contributions from an Indonesian couple has been unsatisfactory. The source of the money remains murky and warrants further investigation. The case points once again to the weaknesses of the Federal Election Commission and the need for more stringent disclosure requirements.
The contribution at issue involves Arief and Soraya Wiriadinata, legal U.S. residents who until last winter lived in a working-class neighborhood in suburban Virginia. He is a landscape architect and she a homemaker, a seemingly ordinary couple until each wrote a $15,000 check to the DNC last November. They wrote more checks totaling $100,000 the next month. Then they returned to Indonesia but continued to make contributions that, eventually, reached the $425,000 total. Under federal law, foreign nationals who are legal U.S. residents may send contributions from abroad if they maintain their status here.
DNC reports filed with the elections commission indicate that the couple was residing in Virginia when, in fact, they were in Indonesia. Beyond the residency issue, there are questions about the source of the money. Soraya Wiriadinata is the daughter of the late Hashim Ning, a business partner of Mochtar Riady, one of Indonesia's wealthiest men. Riady's financial interests stretch to Little Rock, Ark., where his family members developed a close relationship with then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
DNC officials, including the the committee's vice chairman for national finance, John Huang, who once worked for Riady's Lippo Group, insist that the Wiriadinata contributions were legal and proper. The Wiriadinata donation is also suspicious in the light of a similar case that raised questions about a $250,000 contribution to the DNC from a U.S. affiliate of a South Korea company. The DNC subsequently returned that contribution because the subsidiary had not done any business in the United States, and therefore was not a legal donor.
As of now, the DNC's pat answers have led only to more questions, ones that deserve full answers.