Wang Wenliang, a Chinese billionaire and donor to the Clinton Foundation and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has been expelled from China’s top legislature after being caught up in a widespread cash-for-votes scheme.
On Tuesday, China’s national legislature expelled 45 of its nearly 2,900 members, all from the northeastern province of Liaoning, in a huge vote-buying scandal. The move was part of an investigation into corruption in Liaoning and a much larger national anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping.
Wang, who made his fortune in construction and running a strategic port near the North Korean border, also has been a big donor to New York University, Harvard University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Wang’s $2 million donation to the Clinton Foundation in 2013 made waves when it was disclosed last year because of his ties to the Chinese government. More recently, his name surfaced amid news that McAuliffe (D) was the subject of an FBI investigation.
McAuliffe expressed confidence in May that Wang, who gave a combined $120,000 to his 2013 gubernatorial campaign and 2014 inauguration, was a “legitimate donor.”
A spokesman for Wang said his ouster was the result of a political “purge” carried out on behalf of Xi.
“They get rid of people who are not part of his team,” spokesman Sig Rogich said.
He said Wang and the others ousted had only “lobbied decision-makers” with meals and token gifts. “He wined and dined them and gave them a gift,” Rogich said. “It’s not like they gave them cash.”
On Friday, McAuliffe’s attorney, James W. Cooper, said the governor “knows nothing about Mr. Wang and his legal situation in China.”
Spokesmen for the Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.
Wang’s construction conglomerate, Rilin Enterprises, controls the Port of Dandong and processes significant volumes of soybeans shipped out of Virginia. He was courted in 2011 by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who encouraged Wang’s firm to buy 100,000 metric tons of soybeans from Maryland-based Perdue Agribusiness and ship them from Chesapeake, Va., to China.
Wang’s company also helped build the new Chinese Embassy in Washington, assembling and overseeing a team of artisans who would be loyal to both the Chinese government and the principles of feng shui.
“There’s a lot of security involved,” Rogich said. “They’re also artistically knowledgeable about what the Chinese want. There’s a lot of feng shui that goes into this, evidently — depictions of the four seasons. . . . Certain colors are not allowed.”
Wang’s $2 million pledge to the Clinton Foundation drew attention last year, first from CBS News and then other outlets, because of his connections to the Chinese government — both as a member of the National People’s Congress and as a contractor entrusted to help build China’s embassies around the world.
Wang’s political donations to McAuliffe reflect sizable overlap in Clinton and McAuliffe donors. Critics say the pattern suggests contributions to McAuliffe, a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, are intended to curry favor with a former president and an aspiring one. McAuliffe supporters say the overlap is the natural outgrowth of personal and political bonds the governor has forged over a long career as a Clinton fundraiser.
Foreign nationals are prohibited under federal law from making political contributions. So are American subsidiaries of foreign corporations if they are financed in any way by their parent companies or if individual foreign nationals are involved in the decision to make the donation.
But a foreign national can donate personally or through an American subsidiary if he holds a green card, which Rogich said is the case for Wang.
Wang’s name surfaced again in May, when news leaked that the FBI was investigating McAuliffe. CNN, citing anonymous sources, reported at the time that investigators were interested in a contribution the Chinese citizen had made to McAuliffe.
The FBI probe remains ongoing, two people familiar with the investigation told The Post, and Wang is one piece of it, one of the people said.
Investigators also are assessing whether McAuliffe ran afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, an obscure statute that regulates U.S. citizens’ lobbying of the U.S. government on behalf of foreign governments. They also are examining financial transactions dating back to when he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, trying to determine if the DNC benefits were illegally linked to Democratic donors, two people said. They are focused on foreign contributors, including Wang and someone from Saudi Arabia, one of the people said.
One of the people said there is some skepticism among those supervising the case that criminal wrongdoing occurred — particularly in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling that tossed out the corruption case against McDonnell.
Cooper said that McAuliffe had done nothing wrong, that the investigation was unrelated to Wang and that the McDonnell case had no bearing on the McAuliffe probe.
“This is not a corruption investigation,” Cooper said. “McDonnell was a bribery case. This is not a bribery case. It has nothing to do with it. . . . This is an investigation mainly into whether there’s a Foreign Agents Registration Act [violation].”
He also slammed the fact that news of an investigation had leaked to the public.
“I cannot overstate how improper it is for government officials to put out information — particularly false information — about matters they have under inquiry,” he said.
The shake-up in China, which was first reported by the New York Times, affects China’s National People’s Congress. The body is usually seen as a rubber-stamp body to provide a cloak of legal legitimacy to Communist Party rule. Its members meet only once a year for around two weeks to receive reports from government ministries and the provinces, and to approve policies and the appointment of top leaders, including the president.
The NPC’s members are elected every five years from provincial, county and township bodies, although the process is tightly controlled by the party and is very opaque.
Membership in the NPC conveys not only status and prestige but access to the top levels of the party and business elite that run China. Many of China’s top business leaders are also members of the NPC.
Wang’s connections to the Chinese government run deep. He once worked as an economic adviser to the municipal government in his home town of Dandong in Liaoning. He was a guest at a banquet to welcome Xi on his state visit to Washington last year.
Wang, who was born in 1954, has generated some favorable press for sponsoring a conservation project in China’s largest wetlands near the North Korea border and for donating to a mangrove restoration project in Naples, Fla.
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last year recognized Wang’s efforts to restore Dandong Yalu River Estuary Wetland in China, making a statement on the Senate floor, according to a news release issued by Rogich’s Las Vegas-based firm. Reid’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
In China last week, the Liaoning state prosecutor announced it was investigating the former vice head of the provincial legislature, Zheng Yuzhuo, for taking bribes and other illegal acts relating to elections. The province’s former Communist Party chief, Wang Min, was taken into custody in August and expelled from the party on suspicion of taking bribes.
According to state media, some 740,000 officials have been disciplined or punished in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, which is just under 1 percent of the total party membership. Experts say the campaign has also been used to purge rival factions within the party.
It was unclear why Liaoning’s legislature has been targeted for such a clear-out — either as a warning to other provinces or because it had offended the leadership in some other way. It is a bastion of state-run heavy industry and may have been dragging its feet in implementing the kind of economic reforms the central government is demanding, some analysts said.
Most of those caught up in the probe included top business leaders and executives of state-run organizations. It was unclear if further legal action would be taken against them.
“What has happened to the Standing Committee of Liaoning’s provincial People’s Congress is unheard of in the history of China” since the Communist Party takeover in 1949, Li Jianguo, a vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee was quoted as saying.
But in fact, all that is unusual is that people are paying the price for buying votes, independent experts said.
“This is really common in China, it is not a new thing,” said Zhang Ming, a politics professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing. “A huge number of people are spending money on this, including big bosses from state-owned enterprises, officials and big bosses from private companies.”
He said the scandal had not caused any real outrage in China because it was not a surprise.
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report from Washington. Congcong Zhang and Jin Xin contributed to this report from China.