Ryu and his wife gave $125,000 to the institute in September 2011, as did PMX. The couple and PMX each gave $125,000 more in October. In between, Harkin announced the introduction of the $1 coin legislation and toured the company to meet with workers.
Spokeswoman Kate Cyrul Frischmann said Harkin's actions "are not related to or affected by anyone's charitable contributions to Iowa State." In Seoul, a Poongsan spokesman said Ryu was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Donors have pledged $3.1 million for the ISU institute. Half of that money has actually been given, and PMX and Ryu's gifts are among the largest. University officials have said they hope to raise $10 million to create an endowment for the institute.
The donors include unions and companies who can be affected by Harkin, chairman of the health, education, labor and pensions committee. Beyond PMX, the herbal and dietary supplement industry, which Harkin has championed, has been particularly generous. General Nutrition Centers, the Pittsburgh-based chain known as GNC, has pledged $200,000, and Torrance, Calif.-based Herbalife International has promised $100,000.
Senate rules say steps should be taken to avoid soliciting companies that have business with a member's office. Harkin's spokeswoman said last year he had not solicited donations but declined comment on whether that's changed. Email messages released by ISU under the public records law indicate that Harkin and his wife are playing active roles in institute fundraising.
"Tom thinks the fundraising will go well with some leads he has," ISU President Leath wrote to Ruth Harkin after meeting with Tom Harkin in Washington last summer.
PMX Industries Vice President Jim Richardson said the president of the university's charitable foundation, not Harkin, asked for the donations. But university officials refused to explain why the company was solicited.
"If anybody made an implication that it was a payback, I would take great umbrage at that," Richardson said.
AP reporter Youkyung Lee contributed from Seoul.
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