The curious case of Norman Hsu

It is surely among the most astonishing developments of the present campaign season that Norman Hsu, a star Democratic fundraiser, has been on the lam for 15 years after pleading no contest to felony grand theft charges. He faced a three-year California prison sentence when he fled America.

Hsu’s case raises so many disturbing questions that it is difficult to know where best to begin. But let’s start with this: Where was the U.S. Department of Justice for the last 15 years? Hsu’s plea was to California charges, but pleading no contest to charges of running a Ponzi scheme designed to defraud investors of $1 million and then disappearing overseas surely merited federal attention.

Did California authorities fail to inform the feds? Or did the feds just look the other way? Somebody in California and Washington needs to step forward to answer these questions.

Then there is the question of what Hsu has actually been doing for these many years on the lam. Prosecutors have said they thought Hsu skeedaddled to Hong Kong where he ran an operation that imported latex gloves.

At some point thereafter, Hsu ended up in New York, allegedly in the fashion industry, but his main mark has been made with lavish campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and associated groups.

Considering the many contact points between the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign and Chinese-connected donors such as Johnny Chang, federal officials should get some credible answers about Hsu’s activities during those years before he landed in Manhattan rubbing elbows with the bright lights of Democratic politics. This is doubly important because it is hard to find a leading light among the Democrats who hasn’t benefited from Hsu’s seemingly boundless largesse.

New York blogger Flip Pidot of SuitablyFlip.com went beyond Federal Election Commission data to the National Institute on Money in State Politics and various municipal databases to total Hsu contributions. He came up with nearly $1.6 million in donations, all to Democrats and Democratic organizations. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is by far the recipient of the biggest chunk of Hsu’s money and influence. Clinton has pledged to give to charity the nearly $23,000 she received directly from Hsu but she is keeping the remainder — nearly $152,000 in contributions from Hsu associates.

Next comes New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, each with $60,100 in direct Hsu contributions. Reportedly, Spitzer is returning $17,000 and Cuomo $10,000. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Clinton’s leading rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, got $7,000 directly from Hsu and another $24,600 from Hsu associates. Obama is not returning the Hsu money. And among the other recipients is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ($7,500, mostly from Hsu associates).

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