Norman Hsu: Where's the Crime?

The New York Times and Washington Post have long articles today in which the reporters try to trace Norman Hsu's fund-raising contributions to Democrats. The articles practically take it as a given that Hsu's fund-raising was illegitimate because he was a a fugitive from California and they've managed to track down unhappy investors in his business deals that were unrelated to politics.

Despite new interviews reported in the articles both with people that knew Hsu and those whom he asked to contribute to various candidates, one critical allegation is missing: None of the contributors so far have said Hsu reimbursed them for their donations. Without reimbursement, there's no campaign finance crime. Bundling donations is legal and all the candidates have bundlers.

It's been my impression since the story first appeared in the Wall St. Journal that Hsu did nothing illegal in his fund-raising activities. The media keeps looking for and coming up short in discerning Hsu's motives in becoming a bundler for various campaigns.

Hsu strikes me as a political groupie, someone who wanted to go to the parties and mingle with the VIPs, and the way for him to do that was by becoming a big donor.


By all accounts, he never asked for anything from the candidates in return. No one has found a voting record for him.

Some of the people whose contributions were attributed to his bundling say they never even knew him, meaning he wasn't the person who asked them to contribute. One possibility is that he had junior bundlers under him and that he took credit with the campaigns for the monies bundled by others under his direction. But, that's not illegal either.

Hsu may have asked X to contribute and X in turn asked Y and Z. When the checks came in, Hsu took credit for X, Y and Z's contributions, rather than giving X the credit for Y and Z's contributions. So what? That may be chutzpah, but it's not illegal.

As for his fugitive status, he apparently returned to Hong Kong for several years after his criminal case in California. I would buy that he was running from the possible three year sentence he had agreed to if, when he returned to the U.S, he either kept a low profile or changed his name. But who returns to the U.S., knowing they skipped out on a jail sentence, and then seeks to become a big-shot under their real name? It doesn't make sense.

More evidence he's a groupie: The Times reports on his contributions to the Innocence Project. He didn't just decide they were a worthy cause, call them and offer money. He saw Barry Scheck at a restaurant and wanted to meet him. So he walked over to his table, introduced himself and offered a donation. And then he made more donations to become important to the group.

I really think there's nothing sinister behind his political donations. He wanted to be liked and he wanted to be a player. Unless those he collected donations from come forward with documentary proof he reimbursed them for their contributions, he's committed no fund-raising crime I can think of.

On the other hand, the media obsession with his "questionable" donations and complete and almost instantaneous assassination of his character, led him to the brink of suicide.

If there's a crime here, right now I'm not seeing Norman Hsu as the perpetrator, but the victim.

[Cross-posted at Huffington Post.]

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    Jeralyn ... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Meteor Blades on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 02:20:34 AM EST
    ...I wish this excellent post would get a lot more eyeballs on it than it will here. Just sayin'.

    Thanks, I just cross-posted it (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 03:05:09 AM EST
    This reminds me (none / 0) (#10)
    by Dulcinea on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 08:42:57 AM EST
    of the character assassination by the media, among others, of Richard Jewell.  After his recent death at a young age, the coverage regarding his innocence was muted by those who had loudly insinuated he was guilty.

    Thank you, Jeralyn, for contributing your thoughtful perspective to the accusations against Hsu.


    Except that Hsu is a criminal and a con man. (none / 0) (#13)
    by Geekesque on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 10:59:16 AM EST
    The only question is whether he violated campaign finance laws in addition to his other offenses.

    As you know, Al Gore attended a (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 02:00:13 AM EST
    fund raiser at a Buddhist temple in LA area.  One issue was whether donors were reimbursed.  They were.  That was illegal.  A second issue was whether foreign nationals made donations.  That is also illegal.  I've seen insinuations Hsu reaised contributions from foreign nationals but no definitive evidence.  

    the third issue (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 04:29:20 AM EST
    was the totally unsubstantiated allegations that gore was aware of the illegal nature of some of the contributions, an allegation made to this very day.

    of course, the media knows that only democrats have "character" problems, and so they assassinate them by innuendo and/or lies, never with actual facts.

    that mr. hsu contributed to democrats is sufficient to damn him in the media's eyes, lack of any actual evidence notwithstanding.


    the Clintons and the DLC (none / 0) (#17)
    by annefrank on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 03:59:58 PM EST
    SOUGHT Hsu and his fundraising skills!
    He'd promised to raise $1 million for Hillary - and when the campaigned was WARNED about him in June - they ignored it.
    Well - he almost made his goal of $1M.

    Marisacat & Revisionist (none / 0) (#4)
    by Miss Devore on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 03:27:45 AM EST
    Have been all over this for days. but you wouldn't want to give credit, would you?

    I haven't read them (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 03:31:52 AM EST
    but I've been on it since day one as well. 13 posts since August 28, you can read them all here.

    Nothing to see here (none / 0) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 04:23:36 AM EST
    just keep moving along.  If he is a good guy, maybe Mrs. Bill Clinton will ask for her $850K back.

    Remember Whitewater? (none / 0) (#8)
    by jnickens on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 07:14:57 AM EST
    She's a Democrat and her name is Clinton. There doesn't have to be a crime. I'm surprised Gerth's name isn't on the byline.

    I agree (none / 0) (#9)
    by andgarden on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 08:34:48 AM EST
    This was pretty much my impression yesterday when I read the Times article.

    There was lots of speculation that he did it just to have powerful friends, but as far as I know, that's not a crime, and he didn't actually ask for anything more than party invitations.

    I can think of far worse and more incriminating sources of campaign funding.

    where's the crime? (none / 0) (#11)
    by diogenes on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 10:27:05 AM EST
    Well, he was a fugitive, having been convicted of crime already.  For another thing, he disappeared (it is a lot easier to prove a crime when you have someone to ask questions of).  Flight in and of itself leads to suspicion of guilt.  If Norman Hsu were Rove's bundler all of you would cite it as yet another proof of the corruption of the Republican party.

    Irrelevant (none / 0) (#14)
    by LarryE on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 11:49:53 AM EST
    he was a fugitive

    The issue under discussion was the implication that his political contributions were illegal. His "fugitive" status was unrelated to that except as a basis for little more than idle speculation.

    Flight ... leads to suspicion of guilt

    Suspicion is not evidence.

    were Rove's bundler all of you would cite it as ... proof of the corruption of the Republican party

    Not without evidence of some sort of quid pro quo or purchasing of special access or favors, I wouldn't - and evidence of that is exactly what's missing here. Your argument is just another case of an accuse-the-accuser attempt at distraction.


    The absence of evidence isnt evidence (none / 0) (#12)
    by Geekesque on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 10:56:54 AM EST
    of absence.

    Sure, no one has publicly stated that they participated in a money laundering scheme to violate federal election law.  But that's not very remarkable.

    Is Hsu a political groupie?  Sure.  Did he also violate campaign finance laws?  There's some investigating that needs to be done before we can answer that.

    But (none / 0) (#15)
    by LarryE on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 11:53:14 AM EST
    absence of evidence isnt evidence of absence

    No, but it is absence of evidence. Your own statement is an acknowledgment that no actual evidence of crimes here related to political contributions has been presented.


    Too early to say he committed no crime. (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Geekesque on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:58:14 PM EST
    Let the authorities follow this guy's money trails and conduct an investigation before we decry how he's been treated in the media.

    He has already committed a crime. (none / 0) (#18)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 11:09:20 PM EST
    ...And convicted... and fled..... and been exposed and then surrendered (over the phone) and then fled....

    The questions are.... Did he defraud SFI??

    Did he make illegal contributions?


    Huh? (none / 0) (#19)
    by LarryE on Mon Sep 17, 2007 at 01:40:09 AM EST
    Too early to say he committed no crime

    Say what? What kind of backwards "guilty until proven innocent" approach is that?

    The issue here is that there has been a lot of hinting, innuendo, and nudge-nudge insinuation that he is guilty of illegal campaign contributions - but no actual evidence. And that is not proper journalism and it unfairly tars any candidate who may have received a contribution from him.

    Is he being investigated for illegal contributions? If he is, I would assume investigators have some evidence indicating there's something there. But it doesn't appear that he is.

    I say again: Absence of evidence is absence of evidence.

    And the absence of evidence is by definition not a basis to call for investigations.