The Federal Election Commission has fined a super PAC that supported Jeb Bush's failed 2016 Republican presidential bid for accepting $1.3 million in illegal donations from Chinese nationals, a violation of longstanding campaign finance law that forbids campaigns from accepting foreign money.
Right to Rise, which raised more than $121 million to support the former Florida governor's campaign, was fined $390,000 for soliciting the foreign contributions. American Pacific International Capital, a California business controlled by a majority Chinese-owned company, was fined $550,000 for giving the donation, records show.
The federal agency hasn't publicly announced the decision, but the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which filed an FEC complaint that led to the fine, released agency documents on Monday that detailed the specifics.
"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," said Trevor Potter, president of CLC, and a former Republican chairman of the FEC. "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."
A Right to Rise spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums so long as they do not coordinate directly with the candidates they support. Still, Right to Rise was operated by longtime Bush loyalists and handled much of the advertising spending that supported Jeb Bush, who is the brother of former President George W. Bush and the son of former President George H.W. Bush.
The FEC found that another one of Bush's brother, Neil Bush, played a major role in collecting the foreign money. Neil Bush sat on the board of American Pacific International Capital and solicited donations for Right to Rise from owners Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen, both of whom he knew were Chinese, records show.
He raised the possibility of the donation during a business trip to Singapore, which Tang said he was interested in doing so long as it was legal.
Right to Rise provided a legal memo indicating such a donation could, in fact, be above board.
The donation, which was routed through the American subsidiary, was handled by the company's executive director, who is an American citizen.
The FEC's report indicates that the company did not knowingly break the law.
Attorneys for Right to Rise told the FEC that the group "made good faith efforts" to prevent the "solicitation and receipt of foreign national contributions."