Independent Voter Nerwork -Federal law states that foreign governments, corporations, and individuals cannot spend money on elections in the United States. Yet following the Citizens United decision in 2010, some – including President Obama himself – have worried that foreign money could have an easier time influencing American politics.
An investigation by The Intercept released earlier this month shows that such foreign influence took place during the 2016 Republican primary race, and, moreover, explores whether that influence was legal.
The case involves $1.3 million given in total to a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, Right to Rise USA. The money came from APIC, a San Francisco-based “diversified international investment holding company” that The Intercept notes has been described as “controlled,” “owned,” and even “100 percent owned” by Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen – two Chinese citizens with permanent residence in Singapore. The company had close ties to Jeb Bush: his brother, Neil Bush, sits on APIC’s board.
The super PAC was advised that it could accept such donations by Charlie Spies, who supported Mitt Romney’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and who served as legal counsel to Right to Rise USA.
In a February 2015 memo, Spies stated that a U.S. subsidiary could donate to a super PAC if it satisfied several important conditions. First, foreign nationals could have only minimal involvement in the decision-making process, such as establishing a separate account for a donation or setting a budget. Second, the subsidiary must be able to pay for the donation out of its own net earnings and not be subsidized by the foreign parent company.
As The Intercept notes, the first criterion appears to have been satisfied: the domestic firm had enough money on hand to finance the contribution (though it points out that corporate money is fungible and that the contribution ultimately made the Chinese couple $1.3 million poorer). However, it also notes that one owner of the company, Tang, may have been overly involved in the decision-making process: referring to a request by Huaidan Chen’s brother Wilson Chen, Tang stated, “Wilson said to donate, so I did.”