China's History of Attempted Influence in U.S. Presidential Campaigns

The Chinese government has been active in trying to influence U.S. elections and officials for decades, and a new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) study found possible ties between those connected to Chinese business interests and a mysterious website unaffiliated with the Obama campaign that redirects visitors to the official website. 

According to the report's findings, it would be easier for Chinese agents to donate to U.S. politicians by circumventing U.S. election laws because they can now use the Internet instead of the middlemen they attempted to use in decades past. 

Consider the mysterious website "Obama.com," which redirects visitors to President Barack Obama's official campaign website. The Obama campaign, known for obsessing about Obama's brand and logo, does not own "Obama.com." 

In the last week of September 2008, Obama.com was registered to a “Roche, Robert.”

Even more curious is the fact Roche received an invitation to the White House for a 2011 State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao and sat at the head table with Obama. 

At the State Dinner in 2011, Roche was seated at the head table with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley. 

The only other corporate executives seated at the head table werewere General Electric’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent.

In 1998, Roche co-founded Acorn International, a company registered in the People’s Republic of China with ties to at least 13 Chinese state-owned banks. GAI found the Shanghai-based company "deals in infomercials, producing commercials selling cell phones, cosmetics, fitness equipment, breast-enhancement products, and other items on Chinese State television."

Roche has pledged to bundle $500,00 to the Obama 2012 campaign and has contributed $100,000 to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, according to GAI. 

By October 2, 2008, Obama.com began redirecting all visitors to specific content on my.barackobama.com. and the GAI report found that “upon arrival to my.barackobama.com, visitors were asked for their name, email, and zip code and presumably were sent solicitation letters, like every other visitor who provides that information to the campaign.”

On October 4, 2010, the report notes "Obama.com’s site registration was changed from 'Roche, Robert' to an anonymous registration with a company called Domains By Proxy, which is owned by GoDaddy."

Regardless, "Obama.com" benefits the Obama campaign and makes it easier for Chinese agents, if they wanted to, to donate to Obama's campaign in small amounts and go undetected because campaigns do not need to publicly disclose donors who donate less than $200. In addition, Obama's campaign does not use the Credit Verification Value (CVV) to make its online donations more legitimate and secure. 

The Chinese government has had a long history of trying to influence Democrats and Republicans. 

In 1991, then-Chinese President Jiang allegedly told Katrina Leung, a California-based Chinese agent, to "become a major contributor to the Republican Party" because "we don't know if a new president would be as friendly as Bush."

In 1997, as the GAI report notes, the Justice Department investigated whether the Chinese government "sought to direct contributions from foreign sources to the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential campaign," and another investigation determined "top" Chinese officials approved plans to “attempt to buy influence with American politicians."

In 1998, The New York Times discovered Chinese Agent Johnny Chung had donated nearly $100,000 to American politicians and causes in 1996 and most of that money came from Chinese military officials. 

Chung also famously said, “I see the White House like a subway—you have to put in coins to open the gates.” A Chinese military intelligence official also reportedly gave Chung $300,000 to donate to President Bill Clinton. 

The GAI report also noted the FBI in the 1990s "gave individual classified briefings to six members of Congress, warning the members that they had 'been targeted by China to receive illegal campaign contributions funneled through foreign corporations.'"

But because campaigns have such lax security when it comes to online donations, the Chinese government no longer needs go-betweens like Chung or Leung. 


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