Commerce Secretary nominee Gary Locke, whose job would include approving sensitive exports to China, has performed legal work for companies doing business with Beijing and was forced to refund several political donations that he received in the 1990s from key figures in a Chinese influence-buying investigation.
The former Washington state governor is expected to face questions about both issues during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Senate aides and an Obama administration official familiar with the vetting told The Washington Times.
Mr. Locke was the first Chinese-American to become governor when Washington state voters elected him in 1996, and he served two terms. Since leaving the governor’s mansion in 2005, Mr. Locke has been working with the Seattle law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP as part of its China practice, which has offices in Shanghai.
On its Web page, www.dwt.com, the law firm says it has represented several state-run Chinese companies, including China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines and China Shipping as well as the Bank of China, BankOne, Boeing Co., Freightliner, Ford Motor Co., General Electric Capital Corp. and Microsoft Corp.
John A. Shaw, who held senior posts at the Defense, State and Commerce departments overseeing export controls and technology transfers from 1992 to 2004, said senators should question nominees about their past fundraising and views on high-technology transfers to nations such as China.
“Commerce has total control over all dual-use technology and if there is a decision to open the commercial floodgates to China, Locke will be able to steamroll any military concerns coming from State and Defense,” Mr. Shaw said in an interview.
Meanwhile, President Obama on Tuesday issued a waiver of a 1999 defense export-control law that will allow the transfer of U.S. high-technology goods to China. Mr. Obama stated in a notice to Congress that fine-grain graphite and aircraft composite gear will not “measurably improve [China’s] missile and space launch capabilities.”
Mr. Locke declined to comment while his nomination is pending. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Mr. Locke predominately worked for law clients who were U.S. companies doing business in China and the administration is confident he can avoid any conflicts of interests.
“As governor of the state of Washington and later as an attorney representing U.S. companies, Gary Locke opened markets and created opportunities for American businesses overseas critical experience for any commerce secretary,” Mr. LaBolt said.
“We are confident that Governor Locke will be able to continue to advocate on behalf of American businesses and workers while at the same time adhering to the administrations ethics policy,” he said.
As for the Clinton-era donations that Mr. Locke received from sources connected to the Chinese influence-peddling investigation, Mr. LaBolt said the nominee had long since refunded the money and was never implicated in any wrongdoing by congressional or Justice Department investigators.
Mr. Locke is Mr. Obama’s third choice for commerce secretary. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, withdrew from consideration after it was revealed that a grand jury is investigating illegal contracting in the state, and Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, withdrew over policy disputes with the administration.
Mr. Locke is not a registered lobbyist at Davis Wright, but the firm has made millions lobbying for several U.S. companies and also is registered as a foreign lobbyist.