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 Street 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 is it 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 from whom he collected donations 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.

[Jeralyn Merritt blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime..]