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Donation Troubles Continue to Haunt House Investigator

Politics: Rep. Burton, heading fund-raising probe, returns money from lobbyist for Zaire President Mobutu. Aides allege 'smear campaign.'

May 15, 1997|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The head of the House investigation of foreign money in U.S. elections found his own overseas fund-raising ties under scrutiny Wednesday as he returned an improper donation from the lobbyist for Zaire's departing president, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, already has returned illegal donations from two Sikh temples. He also has been accused of threatening the former lobbyist for Pakistan for refusing to raise campaign money, a disputed charge that the Justice Department is investigating.

On Wednesday, Burton aides said that the congressman would return $500 to Edward J. van Kloberg II, a lobbyist for Mobutu, after it was revealed that Van Kloberg exceeded the $2,000 election cycle limit for individual contributions.

Burton dismissed the violation as a minor oversight that resulted from different spellings of Van Kloberg's name on donation logs. But the matter distracted attention yet again from Burton's investigation of Asian campaign money connections, which remains locked in a battle with the White House over the release of documents.

Burton postponed until next week a committee meeting in which he intends to confront White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff--and launch contempt of Congress proceedings if Ruff does not comply with the months-old subpoenas.

The White House said it intended to send to Burton late Wednesday all the documents that administration officials have gathered so far relating to the subpoenas--except papers relating to attorney-client communications or nominations of some of the president's top advisors.

The papers that will be withheld "go to the core of the president's ability to receive confidential and candid advice from his advisors," said White House special counsel Lanny Davis.

It appeared unlikely, however, that the partial delivery would satisfy House investigators, who have questioned the withholding of any of the White House documents they are seeking.

Meanwhile, Burton grappled with a report in The Hill newspaper on Wednesday focusing a spotlight on his connection with Mobutu, the longtime dictator of Zaire whom rebels are poised to overthrow.

In 1995, after the U.S. government restricted visas to Zairian officials deemed an impediment to democracy, Burton attempted to help Mobutu visit the United States, permission he never received. On the House floor, Burton also has defended the now-tottering Mobutu regime and urged his colleagues to tone down their anti-Mobutu rhetoric.

"It has come to my attention that several members of Congress recently made very disparaging remarks about the president of Zaire," Burton said in a 1990 speech. "I believe such conduct is not only unprofessional but also reflects poor taste. . . . President Mobutu has shown great responsiveness to demands for reform from the people of Zaire."

Burton aides vehemently denied Wednesday that the congressman has been unduly supportive of Mobutu's regime or that his political contributions from Van Kloberg and other Mobutu associates affected his views toward the African nation.

Burton released a letter that he wrote to Mobutu in 1995 saying that the country's armed forces "still carry out gross abuses, extortion and physical attacks on citizens." The letter urged Mobutu to improve Zaire's human rights record.

And there could be another headache for Burton. A top Education Department official said Burton sought to intervene last year in a regulatory matter affecting a veterinary school run by one of his campaign contributors.

David Longanecker, assistant secretary for post-secondary education, said Burton summoned him to a meeting with other lawmakers where he tried to delay changes to loan regulations that would have affected a private Caribbean medical and veterinary school run by Dr. Robert Ross, one of his campaign contributors.

After the meeting, which Burton aides characterized as entirely proper, the congressman called Ross to ask if his daughter could attend the veterinary school, the newspaper Roll Call reported. "I am sure she would be a welcome addition to our student body," Ross wrote in a letter to Burton.

Burton's aides dismissed the latest revelations as part of a Democratic smear campaign to divert attention from the fund-raising scandals.

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