Former fund-raiser supports Gore's version of '96 temple event

By Associated Press, 2/17/2000

ASHINGTON - Vice President Al Gore's 1996 appearance at a Buddhist temple ''was never a fund-raising matter,'' a former Democratic fund-raiser said yesterday in testimony that supports Gore's explanation of the event.

John Huang, testifying at the trial of fellow fund-raiser Maria Hsia, said Gore had been scheduled to attend a separate campaign event the same day on the Los Angeles trip. The earlier appearance had been canceled because of Gore's ''tight schedule,'' Huang told a US District Court jury.

In consolidating the two appearances, Huang said a luncheon originally planned for a restaurant was moved to the ''community outreach event'' at the Hsi Lai Temple.

Hsia is charged with five felony counts of causing false statements to be filed with the Federal Election Commission about the source of campaign donations. Prosecutors have described actions by Hsia, an immigration consultant, as a scheme to illegally reimburse contributors for more than $100,000 in donations they made to the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign and the Democratic Party.

Huang testified Tuesday that Hsia gave him an envelope with $100,000 in donations after the appearance at the temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., on April 29, 1996. Both Huang and Hsia were key Democratic Party fund-raisers in the Asian-American community.

To demonstrate that there originally were two events, Hsia's lawyer, Nancy Luque, showed Huang invitations to the restaurant. Huang said he had sent some out before the event was canceled.

Huang's description of the temple appearance as a ''community outreach event'' matched the description originally used by Gore. More recently Gore has said, ''I have acknowledged my mistake in attending'' the event.

Huang said that in planning the temple event he thought that having a dignitary like Gore would help the Asian-American community. He acknowledged that he personally hoped ''some of the wealthier Asian-Americans would open up their wallets'' - although ''not necessarily at that time.''

The chief Asian-American fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee in 1996, Huang said many in that community leaned toward the GOP and he hoped the temple event could inspire people to be ''drawn to'' Democrats.