Jeb Bush Super PAC fined for taking $1.3 million in illegal money

Right to Rise USA, created to propel the former Florida governor into the Oval Office, was slapped with a $390,000 penalty on March 4.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (Associated Press)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (Associated Press)
Published March 12, 2019

A Super PAC that spent more than $100 million in support of Jeb Bush’s failed 2016 presidential campaign has been hit with a massive fine by the Federal Elections Commission for soliciting more than $1 million in political contributions from Chinese nationals.

Right to Rise USA, created to propel the former Florida governor into the Oval Office, was slapped with a $390,000 penalty on March 4 following a lengthy investigation into money donated by a California company called American Pacific International Capital and solicited by Bush’s younger brother, Neil. The company, wholly owned by a corporation based out of China, was fined $550,000 in December in relation to the same case.

The fines, revealed in conciliation agreements that have not yet been made public by the federal government, were detailed in documents released Monday by the non-profit Campaign Legal Center. Following a report by The Intercept, the non-partisan organization filed a complaint in 2016 accusing the company of improperly acting as a pass-through to allow a Chinese couple to steer $1.3 million to the Super PAC.

“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,” Trevor Potter, president of CLC and a former Republican Chairman of the FEC, said in a statement.

The details of the agreements suggest that APIC and Neil Bush, a company board member who initially suggested the donation, would have been fine had the contribution been handled entirely by Bush and the company’s executive director, who is also an American citizen. Emails show Neil Bush encouraged APIC to consult its attorneys and received legal guidance from Right to Rise on donations by domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

But the younger Bush — whom the FEC says became an agent of the Super PAC when it provided him with the legal memorandum to guide the donation — erred when he consulted APIC Board Chairman Gordon Tang and board member Huaidan Chen, both Chinese nationals. That broke a federal campaign rule intended to ensure that “foreign nationals shall not direct, dictate, control or directly or indirectly participate” in the decision-making process when it comes to corporations’ election activities.

“Neil Bush solicited Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen to make a contribution to Right to Rise USA,” states the agreement with Right to Rise. “Further, Bush was aware that Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen participated in making the decision that APIC would contribute to Right to Rise USA.”

APIC spokesman Mark Irion stressed in a statement that the company is a U.S. company, and that the elections commission “expressly acknowledged that the company did not knowingly or willfully violate any U.S. campaign finance laws.” Charlie Spies, general counsel to Right to Rise, said the Super PAC settled the issue “to avoid costly litigation and appreciates the Commission’s recognition of the PAC’s extensive compliance efforts.”

A spokeswoman for Jeb Bush referred the Miami Herald to Spies.

According to Mother Jones, which first reported the fines, Neil Bush said through a spokesman Monday that the money he raised was contributed by American entities and citizens who were allowed under law to give to Right to Rise.

“I believed that my actions were both lawful and consistent with the legal advice that I sought.”