Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News
Isle woman part of
campaign probe

Former resident Nora Lum figures in a
congressional investigation into ’92 finances

By Ian Y. Lind

Congressional investigators have renewed a probe of former Hawaii resident Nora T. Lum, and a 1992 campaign project which she headed, because of their links to Democratic National Committee fund-raiser John Huang and former DNC official Melinda Yee.

David Bossie, staff investigator for Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said last week that investigators are "extremely interested" in Lum's association with Huang and Yee in the Asian Pacific Advisory Council (APAC-Vote), a DNC project that operated out of offices in Torrance, Calif., during the fall of 1992.

Bossie said APAC-Vote is drawing new scrutiny because its "cast of characters" included Huang, then an officer of the Indonesian-owned Lippo Bank in Los Angeles; the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, then chairman of the DNC; and Melinda Yee, an assistant to Brown at the DNC and national director of Asian Pacific American affairs for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign.

Following the 1992 elections, Brown was appointed secretary of commerce and named Huang and Yee to key positions in the department.

Lum, who has homes in Oklahoma and Hawaii, could not be reached for comment.

Huang and Yee have been ordered to testify in a lawsuit by the conservative organization Judicial Watch, which wants to know whether Commerce Department trade missions were used to raise funds for the Democratic Party.

Huang was targeted by national Republican newspaper ads last week asking "Have You Seen This Man?" after he failed to appear to answer questions in the case.

Bossie said the congressional investigation is focused on the fund-raising activities of APAC-Vote, including unsubstantiated allegations that large amounts of cash flowed through their office, and on Lum's subsequent ownership of Dynamic Energy Resources, an Oklahoma corporation that has been accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Brown's son to gain favor with the commerce secretary.

APAC-Vote officially opened its office on September 9, 1992, the same day then-candidate Bill Clinton announced the formation of the Asian Pacific American Committee for Clinton-Gore, whose roster included Sen. Dan Inouye, Sen. Dan Akaka, Rep. Patsy Mink, and then-Gov. John Waihee.

Lum and her husband, attorney Eugene K.H. "Gene" Lum, moved to California from Hawaii earlier in the year to take the lead in setting up the project on behalf of the DNC. They were also major Democratic donors, eventually giving nearly $60,000 from themselves, their children, and companies they controlled.

Democratic National Committee officials now have little to say about APAC-Vote. In response to questions from the Star-Bulletin earlier this year, DNC representative Amy Weiss Tobe said the group was informal and not officially associated with the DNC. She said the DNC has no records of its fund-raising activities.

However, the group's fund-raising literature, including a letter signed by Clinton, cited its DNC ties, and Brown visited the Torrance office, according to Ron Wakabayashi, who was also active in APAC-Vote.

But Wakabayashi, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, described the APAC-Vote offices, located in an old warehouse, as "austere" and nothing like the fund-raising machine being implied by Republican criticism.

Wakabayashi said APAC-Vote grew out of an existing network of Asian Americans in the Los Angeles area who had been active in different political campaigns.

"It was like a campaign office operationally, but its focus was on Asian Pacific communities," Wakabayashi said. Day to day activities included developing volunteer and phone banks, and setting up events that would promote the Democratic candidates in Asian Pacific neighborhoods.

The long-term goal, Wakabayashi said, was to get get Asian American issues onto the national agenda.

Wakabayashi also defended Huang, whom he described as "just a super nice guy."

"I've never seen him as someone trying to leverage something from his fund-raising, and I never saw him trying to promote himself or anything like that," Wakabayashi said.

Lum and members of her family were among those subpoenaed by Independent Counsel Daniel Pearson to appear before a U.S. grand jury in Washington earlier this year to testify about links between Brown and the Oklahoma natural gas firm set up by Lum in 1993.

Pearson was investigating transactions in which Lum gave Brown's son, Michael, 5 percent of the corporation's stock and appointed him an officer and director of the firm. Michael Brown received distributions of cash based on the stock holdings, was given a lucrative lobbying contract, and received a $60,000 membership in a swank Virginia country club.

Yee's mother, Helen Yee, was also given stock and named to the company board of directors by Lum, according to Oklahoma court records. Melinda Yee, while a special assistant to Ron Brown at the Commerce Department, flew to Boston at company expense during the 1994 elections for a DNC event, the records show.

Pearson's investigation of Brown ended with his death in an April airplane crash, but aspects relating to Lum and other individuals have been turned over to the Justice Department for further action.

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