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Asian Money Connection Expands To Include Monks

By Brooks Jackson/CNN

buddhist temple

WASHINGTON (Oct. 17) -- It's the latest twist in the story of the Democratic Party's Asian financial angels: "monk money." Residents of various branches of the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple are listed as giving more than $50,000 to the Democratic party this year, but where did the money really come from?

The Wall Street Journal, which broke the latest story, called the cash "instant karma." The article quoted one of the donors, who runs a branch of the temple in Texas, as saying she was given $5,000 in cash and was asked to write a check to the Democratic party so the real donor's name would not have to be listed. That's against the law.

Most of the money was given a day after a visit by Vice President Al Gore to the temple's Los Angeles branch on April 29. It's also a violation for a religious site to be used for a political fundraiser.

temple's Los Angeles branch

Earlier in the year, Republican Bob Dole had to return illegal contributions to his primary campaign. Thursday, it was his turn to joke about the Democrats' embarrassment. "You know," Dole said, "the Clinton-Gore team have given the California gold rush new meaning. They're now holding fundraisers in Buddhist temples where you have to take a vow of poverty before you can get in. Then they raised about 50 grand there."(265k WAV sound)

White House spokesman Mike McCurry referred questions to the Democratic National Committee, saying it was their fund-raising event. But he added, "Of course, it was a source of concern, because, as the DNC indicated, it was a mistake."

The vice president's spokeswoman also referred questions to the DNC. But no official there would talk on-camera to CNN.

mike mccurry

Off camera, a spokeswoman said the DNC was investigating and would return any contributions found to be improper.

Also today, House Speaker Newt Gingrich released letters from some House committee chairmen demanding information about Clinton's Indonesian money. Gingrich said it was the "opening phase of the largest presidential scandal in American history."

If the Democrats give the money back, it will be the second time in this election cycle that they have had to do so. Earlier, the Los Angeles Times raised questions about a $250,000 contribution from a South Korean business, money that turned out to be illegal, and was given back.

And today there's a new twist on that: The man who gave that illegal contribution, John Lee, has disappeared.

When CNN went looking for his company, billed as a major electronic manufacturer, all we found was an answering machine at a Beverly Hills mansion. Now The Los Angeles Times says he can't be found in Los Angeles or Seoul, South Korea, either.

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