Jeb Bush's Political Committee Hit With Massive Fine for Accepting Illegal Donations

Jeb Bush's Political Committee Hit With Massive Fine for Accepting Illegal Donations
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Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Throughout the 2016 Republican presidential primary, former Florida governor and current Miami businessman Jeb Bush was painted as the sensible, reasonable, and less transparently corrupt GOP alternative to Donald Trump.

But it turns out that folks tied to Bush also apparently enjoy bouts of law-breaking. The Federal Election Commission today announced that it had levied a near-record-setting $390,000 fine against a pro-Jeb political action committee after that PAC accepted $1.3 million in illegal contributions from the Chinese-owned corporation American Pacific International Capital. Inc., or APIC.

Notably, Neil Bush — brother of Jeb and George W. Bush — sat on APIC's board.

A nonprofit watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), filed a formal complaint with the FEC after the news organization the Intercept laid out in stark detail how Chinese businessmen were illegally funneling money to a PAC called Right to Rise USA, which was formed to support Jeb Bush's run for president.

Bush founded the PAC in January 2015 but relinquished control of it that June after he formally announced a run for office. (Candidates are, technically, not supposed to have associations with political action committees, but those rules are routinely broken.) A Republican political consultant, Mike Murphy, took over the PAC. Bush, who was then the primary's frontrunner, went on to commit one of the saddest political choke-jobs in American history. He was flattened by Trump, a man who recently referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as "Tim Apple." (Bush also recently put his ritzy Coral Gables home up for sale for $1.8 million.) But we digress.

In August 2016, Intercept reporters Jon Schwarz and Lee Fang wrote that APIC, which was owned by two Chinese nationals — Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen — sent $1 million and $300,000 donations to Right to Rise in 2015. The Intercept also obtained documents showing that APIC received legal advice from Charlie Spies, one of the most prominent Republican campaign-finance lawyers in America.

Speaking with the Intercept, Huaidan Chen's brother, Wilson Chen, said that his family is "very lucky" to know the Bushes and that the Chens speak with the Bush clan "as friends."

Shortly after the Intercept published its story, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a formal FEC complaint. This past Friday, the FEC took action. In addition to fining Bush's PAC $390,000, the commission levied $550,000 in penalties against APIC.

The fines are among the largest penalties the FEC has dished out since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010, which ushered in an unprecedented flood of corporate campaign money. Critics, including the CLC, have said the Citizens United decision made it easier for foreign nationals to donate illegally to U.S. races.

“Today’s action is a rare and remarkable step by the FEC, and a reminder that safeguarding our elections against foreign interference is in America’s vital national security interests,” CLC president Trevor Potter said today in a media release. “This illegal $1.3 million contribution is unmistakable proof that Citizens United opened the floodgates to foreign money in the U.S., and it is surely the tip of the iceberg. The fact that the FEC, which so often deadlocks and therefore fails to act in violations, could agree on this one highlights the very real danger this sort of activity poses to our democracy.”
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.