Sen. Jesse Helms on Saturday defended the fund-raising practices of his private foundation - which reportedly received donations from foreign governments.

"As long as it's lawful, what's wrong with it?" Helms said after a small pro-tobacco rally at the Lenoir County Fairgrounds. "It's typical right-before-the-election - hyphenate each word - tactics against Jesse Helms."Helms was referring to a Washington Post story that the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate received $225,000 in 1993 from Taiwan and in 1991 received $100,000 from the government of Kuwait.

"I'm proud of the center and so are the people of that area," said Helms, a Republican senator and Foreign Relations Committee chairman who is seeking a fifth term.

A former employee of the center told the Post that Helms suggested Taiwan make a donation because he usually supported issues the country supported.

While forbidden from giving money directly to Helms, the Taiwanese government was free to donate to the center, located in a renovated antique store. Last year, the center's assets totaled $5.2 million. The money is used to operate a museum honoring Helms' political career, house his archives and host conservative speakers at Wingate College.

The revelation of the Taiwanese donation followed reports that an Indonesian banker gave $200,000 to the Democratic Party. That contribution has created controversy for President Clinton's re-election campaign.