Foreign influence: how a Chinese businessman funneled $1.3M to Jeb Bush's campaign

Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen — Chinese nationals who live in Singapore — own a global property speculation and development empire whose US branch is called American Pacific International Capital Inc. They followed a recipe set out in a memo by Charlie Spies, a top Republican lawyer, in order to funnel $1.3M to Jeb Bush's PAC, then Tang offered a reporter for the Intercept $200,000 not to mention that he had been investigated for smuggling, tax evasion and bribery by the Chinese government.

Spies's memo is a how-to manual for laundering foreign cash into American election campaigns using the principles set out in Citizens United, and was penned even as Spies and his colleagues were deriding Obama for warning that the Supreme Court's ruling that money was a form of protected political speech and that corporations could make unlimited donations to PACs meant that foreigners would buy influence in American elections. When questioned about the memo by The Intercept, Spies "grew agitated" and then "abruptly hung up."

Tang and Chen's seven-figure donation to the Bush campaign was only one of many large, strategic cash interventions the millionaires have made in American politics: others include transfers to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; Portland, Oregon, Mayor Charlie Hales; former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber; the Republican Party of Kentucky and the Democratic National Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign. They also bought the DC-area home of Gary Locke after President Obama named him as the US ambassador to China.

In theory, much of this activity is illegal, but Tang and Chen were able to operate with relative impunity, as are many other foreign businesspeople who seek to influence US politics through laundered donations. That's because the two Republic members of four-member Federal Elections Comimssion have deadlocked virtually every attempt to enforce campaign finance laws, creating a culture at the FEC where morale is lower than at virtually any other federal agency. The GOP commissioners have even argued that FEC investigators should be prohibited from searching Google without a majority approval from the board.

Tang and Chen's money-laundering was relatively easy to spot because they have an actual US subsidiary that does business in America. Millions of the dollars that have flowed into super PACs in this election campaign have come from "ghost companies" that are incorporated days before they make large donations and seem to have no purpose except to make those donations without revealing the donors' identities (Republicans in Congress blocked legislation that would require the disclosure of beneficial ownership of companies making political contributions and a ban on contributions with more than 20% foreign ownership).

Following that call, Tang telephoned Yu directly in Hong Kong. Speaking with her in Cantonese, Tang was alternately threatening and cajoling, asking Yu to prevent The Intercept from referencing unverified claims on Chinese-language websites that he had been accused of smuggling, tax evasion, and bribery in Shantou. If she did, Tang said, when he came to Hong Kong the following week he would give her "a red packet of 200,000 dollars, so we can be friends," adding, "I don't even know why you want to be a reporter, reporters make so little money."

How a Top GOP Lawyer Guided a Chinese-Owned Company Into U.S. Presidential Politics [Jon Schwarz, Lee Fang/The Intercept]

Meet the Chinese Husband-and-Wife Team Whose Company Spent $1.3 Million Trying to Make Jeb Bush President [Jon Schwarz, Lee Fang/The Intercept]

Three Paths Citizens United Created for Foreign Money to Pour Into U.S. Elections
[Jon Schwarz, Lee Fang/The Intercept]

Gary Locke, While Obama's Ambassador to China, Got a Chinese Tycoon to Buy His House
[Jon Schwarz, Lee Fang/The Intercept]