09/30/97 - 07:34 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Donor persuades DNC to keep money

WASHINGTON - Most people hire lawyers to get their money back but Kansas City, Mo., businessman Farhad Azima used his attorney to persuade the Democratic Party to keep his $143,000 donation.

In February in the midst of its fund-raising furor, the Democratic National Committee announced that Azima's donation was among $3 million being returned because it was "deemed inappropriate."

Azima asked his attorney, E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., to determine why he was being shunned.

Barcella said the DNC cited media reports linking Azima's aircraft leasing company to the shipment of spare parts to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair as the basis for returning the contribution.

"It became clear that it was the result of computer news files," Barcella said. "They simply ran a check and saw that there were stories over the years about Mr. Azima. Although he had never been charged with a crime, convicted of a crime, there were a variety of news articles - most of which were either inaccurate and all of which were incomplete."

With little fanfare, the DNC apologized. And near the end of a June 27 news release announcing it had met its deadline to return $1.3 million of its suspect donations, the party disclosed it had decided to keep Azima's contribution.

The DNC said Barcella had convinced party officials "there was no basis for the DNC to return the contributions."

"The submission demonstrates that Mr. Azima is a U.S. citizen of significant financial worth, with a positive reputation in his industry, and that the various allegations appearing in the press about Mr. Azima have essentially no basis in fact," the DNC said.

Barcella's unusual advocacy for his client didn't stop there. After the DNC's initial announcement it was returning Azima's donation, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate panel investigating campaign fund-raising abuses, said he would return a $3,000 donation from the businessman.

While Thompson's campaign hasn't taken back the money, "I wrote a letter," Barcella said.

By The Associated Press

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