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He-Mail, She-Mail,
and the Taiwan Two-Step

by Jean Hay
November 1997

Below is an exchange of e-mail messages between Maine Democratic Party Chair Chris Hall and me earlier this fall. It began when, after several unproductive calls to Washington, I asked Chris Hall for help in getting a copy of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's official response to the complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by the Maine Republican Party during last year's U.S. Senate race. That complaint was related to the DSCC's hiring of a researcher to check Susan Collins' public record.
Received: Aug. 31, 1997

 Dear Jean,

Sorry to not reply before today. Just back from a week in Taiwan with a Democratic Party delegation. Interesting, the way the island is developing into a true democracy; and about time.

I'll get the office to check with the DSCC on Tuesday. Thanks for the info - I didn't know there was still an active complaint.

Chris Hall.

Sent: Sunday, Aug. 31, 1997


Thanks for your note. Looking forward to getting the information...
Glad you had a good time in Taiwan. One question -- who paid for the trip?

Jean Hay

I saw Chris the next day, Labor Day, at the Democratic Party booth at the Blue Hill Fair, and got a few more details about his trip, including the fact that a group in Taiwan had picked up the tab. Chris was clearly taken aback when I said that I thought the arrangement was highly inappropriate.
 Received: Sept. 1, 1997

 Dear Jean,

Nice to see you today. I'll ask the DSCC to send their reply.

What an odd, even insulting, question to ask about Taiwan. Did you really think that somehow I am using party funds for foreign travel? Do you really believe the world is a conspiracy?

Will forward the stuff when we get it.

Chris Hall

 Sent: September 6, 1997


Haven't heard a peep from the DSCC...

As for Taiwan, let me make sure I've got this straight.

Congress is currently conducting hearings into the illegal involvement of foreign money in our federal electoral process, with the current focus on the Pacific Rim.

You went to Taiwan recently, not as a tourist, not as a businessman, but with a Democratic Party delegation and in your capacity as Maine Democratic Party Chair. You make no bones about the fact that a Taiwanese organization like a Chamber of Commerce, one of those NGO's we often hear about, paid your way.

And you say you are insulted by my question, but in a way that shows you don't have any idea that what you did (go on a junket as a Democratic Party official, with the costs picked up by one or more foreign corporations) might be in any way either unethical or even possibly illegal....

I was actually HOPING that either you or the Democratic Party picked up the tab. And I am very disappointed that the Maine Democratic Party Chair is apparently totally oblivious to one of the biggest threats now facing the current administration on the floor of Congress.

You have placed yourself in a situation where you have the appearance of a serious conflict of interest. Also, unless you have entered the cost of your trip as an in-kind contribution on the Maine Democratic Party (or DNC) books, you have allowed this foreign money to be laundered into the United States electoral process without any accounting.

 Jean Hay

Received: Sept. 8, 1997

Hi, Jean.

Well, I have to say that I haven't heard a peep back from the DSCC either. I'll ask them again on Monday.

Of all the delegations I have been on in my life, or all those I wish I had been on, whether academic, NATO, diplomatic or trade, I've never before heard the participants accused of money-laundering. Junketing or whatever, usually by those who do not travel, do not understand its value and fear the "foreign", yes; but never have I heard it suggested that it is illegal to travel other than at one's personal expense. Perhaps you have not worked in business.

Your comments suggest that you are not aware that US public and party officials regularly visit foreign countries at their expense, just as we in the US bring numbers of foreign citizens here. (I think you know Harold Pachios who is a member of the advisory commission that guides the State Department's policies in this area.) This year I am aware of visits by elected Democrats from Maine to Israel and mainland China; people like our Congressmen, Attorney General, selected state legislators are routinely invited and routinely accepted.

I believe it is important not only that Maine should participate in these trips to understand our role in the world but that we should encourage more foreign delegations to come here. But then you'd expect me, as an immigrant, to think the world is important.

Chris Hall

Sent: September 12, 1997


It's Friday again, and still no word from the DSCC.

As to Taiwan, it sounds like you still don't quite understand the issue I am challenging you on. Ignoring for the moment your patronizing attitude, I want to assure you that I am not opposed to foreign travel, have done some of it myself and learned a lot in the process....

You don't seem to grasp that the issue here is not business or foreign travel, but the U.S. electoral process. There is a justifiable concern about foreign financing of U.S. political and governmental activities. I repeat, you did not go to Taiwan as a tourist, or as a businessman, but as an official of the Democratic Party. As such, you were representing a segment of our electoral process, and your way should have been paid by the Democratic Party, either directly or by reimbursement to them of your expenses by you or some duly-documented stateside donor.

Although you disparaged my ``laundering'' remark, you lump your recent trip in with non-electoral excursions as if they were all the same. You do not seem to understand that you entered another legal and ethical world when you crossed the line into U.S. politics as a party official. I find that amazing, particularly in light of the campaign finance hearings now being conducted in Washington.

You have also not yet told me whether your expenses were in any way documented in Democratic Party accounts, at any level. Also, are you now (per your last e-mail) saying that the Taiwanese government paid for your trip? I thought it was one or more foreign corporations, or an NGO. The issue is accountability, and so far your details are uncomfortably scarce.

I do not hold you up to a different standard....You made a reference to Maine legislators going to other countries such as China. One such trip to China is scheduled for Oct. 15, and I hear 16 legislators are going. I checked with one of them, and indeed every one of them is paying for the entire trip out of his or her own pocket, for a total cost of $2,000-$3,000 each, no small piece of change for any one of them. The legislator I checked with, when I asked who was paying for the trip, not only understood my question, but anticipated it. He said that my question was the standing big joke, the question everyone asked, because all were keenly aware of the foreign connections being investigated in Washington.

Furthermore, John Baldacci's office assures me that John has taken no foreign trips on the expense account of any foreign country, and in fact has a policy of accepting no gifts at all, even from American citizens, except for those of incidental value, such as a coffee mug or a T-shirt.

The FEC [Federal Election Commission] says foreign involvement in election activities is forbidden. As for all-expense-paid trips by party officials in non-election years, according to the FEC information office, both reporting requirements and appropriateness of the transaction would depend on the nature of the trip, the ``nature of what actually went on.''

Therefore, I would like to know more specifically the nature of your trip, how it was promoted beforehand to you and the other members of the delegation, and very specifically who footed the bill, and how big that bill was.

As for your patronizing attitude: I do not appreciate your inference that you are the well-travelled and enlightened immigrant, and that only dumb, fearful, untraveled, provincial native-born Americans like me could be so stupid as to question the propriety of your activities.

Jean Hay

Received: Sept. 17, 1997

Dear Jean,

Just back from another foreign trip to receive your message. Let me tell you the facts about the Taiwan trip, then you can decide what you want to do.

There were three U.S. groups in Taiwan simultaneously during the week I was there, one of which (state legislators) we did not meet and about which I know nothing; the other two, of eight members of the Republican National Committee and eight members of the Democratic National Committee, were hosted by the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and Industry which paid air fares and hotels. (this is the same trip that Victoria went on two years ago, you may recall).

The trip was arranged so as to meet with the US representative office in Taipei; to meet the three major political parties; foreign-policy and defense think tanks; the government ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Security Council and office of mainland affairs. Our interpreter was a young man from the Washington, DC, Taipei Representative Office.

Persons on the Democratic delegations included state chairs from Hawaii, DC, and Maine; DNC members from Rhode Island, New Jersey (2), Indiana; and the Executive Director of Democrats Abroad (Washington-based). The delegation was "chaired" for protocol's sake by a DNC member from New Jersey who is a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and County Executive of Hudson County, the only elected official on the trip.

Remember that you must not confuse me with an elected public official or a paid official. Like you I am a volunteer activist for this party; like you I care deeply about this party's propriety and the appearance of propriety. I think you are wrong as a matter of law, fact, and political judgment in interpreting my accepting an invitation to join this year's delegation as in any way unethical. If you want to object further I suggest you first contact the DNC and ask them their policies and the law on such delegations.

Chris Hall

Jean Hay of Bangor is a freelance writer and former Democratic Congressional and U.S. Senate candidate. She is still waiting to hear from the DSCC*. Her e-mail address is:
*In mid-December 1997, more than a month after this article was printed in the Aroostook Democrat, the Maine Republican Party office faxed me a letter which it had just received from the Federal Elections Commission. The letter said the FEC was closing MRP's complaint against the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee -- the issue which had prompted the above exchange -- without taking any action.

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