Tracking Gore's Temple Woes

June 30, 2000

by Kenneth R. Timmerman


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In a four hour interview with the Justice Department in April, Al Gore went out of his way to deny any knowledge that his April 29, 1996 appearance at a Buddhist temple in California was a fund-raising event for the DNC. According to Gore's account, he was just paying a courtesy call to the temple, which he had heard about but never visited before. "I felt this visit was something they would be very pleased with because it showed honor to their community and to their place of worship," he told Justice Department lawyer Robert J. Conrad, Jr. Sensitive Al was just trying to show respect.

In fact, Gore's ties to the temple went back at least seven years, when Venerable Master Hsing Yun helped finance a trip Gore made to Asia that included a visit to the temple's headquarters in Taiwan. In fact, so deep and so consistent are Gore's ties to the Fo Kuang Shan Buddhist order and to the convicted DNC fund-raiser who first introduced him to the monks, that his denials are nothing short of breathtaking.

I discovered Gore's ties to the Hsi Lai Temple while conducting what I thought was an unrelated investigation for the American Spectator. My story, "INS Abuse," which hits the news stands this week, focused on the administration's use of the INS for political purposes, including what Gore himself referred to as a "Democratic voter mill."

My interest had been piqued by Gore's involvement as a U.S. Senator in crafting the 1990 Immigration Act. Among the most active lobbyists pressing Congress for favors was a then unknown Asian-American political activist named Maria Hsia.

In April 1988, Hsia joined forces with James Riady and John Huang in Los Angeles to form the Pacific Leadership Conference (PLC) as a vehicle for advancing the interests of the Asian-American community and especially Riady's Lippo Group. Very early on, they turned to the Hsi Lai Temple and its presiding monk for funds.

The PLC raised more than $1 million over the next few years for a wide variety of Democratic candidates, including Gore and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. From the start, they practiced creative accounting and bent federal election rules.

In a July 1988,. the group contacted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, offering to host an Asian tour for key U.S. Senators. By late November, the Senators they had initially approached backed out. When Maria Hsia met Gore at a fund-raiser at the Georgetown home of Pamela Harriman, she lobbied him to join the group, and followed up with a letter promising financial and political support. "If you decide to join this trip, I will persuave [sic] all my colleagues in the future to play a leader [sic] role in your future presidential race," Hsia wrote. Just to make sure that her meaning was clear, she sent the letter to the attention of Gore's top fund-raiser, Peter Knight.

Gore was accompanied on that fateful Asia tour by Maria Hsia, James Riady, John Huang and other PLC members. In Indonesia, they met Mochtar Riady, the head of the Lippo Group. In Hong Kong, they met with Chinese government officials. And on January 11, 1989, Gore and the group toured the Kiaoshung Monastery on Taiwan, as the guests of Hsi Lai Temple Venerable Master Hsing Yun. According to the Senate investigation of the temple fund-raiser, Hsing Yun helped foot the bill for the Taiwan leg of the trip.

After the Asia trip, the relationship between Gore, Maria Hsia, and the Hsi Lai Temple deepened. On April 30, 1989, Hsia set up two fund-raisers for Gore at the Sostanza restaurant in West Los Angeles. On May 21, 1989, Gore returned to LA, where Hsia organized a $250 per plate dinner at the home of PLC founding member Tina Bow. The event was co-chaired by Eddy Yang, an advisor to Venerable Master Hsing Yun and raised $20,000 for Gore. Among the guests were several monks and nuns from the Hsi Lai Temple.

According to a 1997 account in the Los Angeles Times, Gore sent a thank-you note to one of the monastics after the fund-raiser, saying that he "deeply appreciates your support and the support of your congregation." Given the fact that Gore was up for re-election to the U.S. Senate in Tennessee, where the monastics could not vote, the only support they could have given him was financial.

Gore made that clear in a separate letter to Maria Hsia two days later, reminding her that his failed presidential campaign "has delayed my efforts to raise money for the 1990 campaign and left our coffers empty for the upcoming race. Your contribution at the early stage of this effort has helped to replenish our account."

In addition to the "hard" money raised directly for the Gore campaign at the fund-raiser, Hsia and her friends made sure that $29,500 in soft money they had donated to the DSCC was "tallied" to Gore's hard money accounts for his 1990 U.S. Senate campaign, a practice whose legality has come under fire. In a separate letter to Hsia, dated Jan. 31, 1989, Gore thanked her for "crediting my DSCC tally" with those checks.

For more than twelve years, Al Gore has maintained a lucrative relationship with an Asian-American fund-raiser the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee said it had learned "has been an agent of the Chinese government." He went on a tour of Asia paid for in part by the Hsi Lai Temple, and took campaign contributions from monks and nuns of the order. Gore's attempt to falsely categorize this long-standing relationship as something haphazard or impromptu demonstrates once again his precarious relationship to the truth.

 [Originally published in the Washington Times, June 30, 2000, Page A21]