The violation centered on communications between a Chinese couple, Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen, and Bush’s brother Neil Bush, who was raising money for the super PAC and was involved in business with the couple.
In 2015, the super PAC, Right to Rise, accepted $1.3 million from the U.S. arm of an international private investment firm, American Pacific International Capital (APIC). Tang and Chen own a majority interest in the corporation that owns the investment firm, according to the legally binding conciliation agreement made public Monday.
Under federal law, foreign companies are barred from making contributions toward U.S. elections. Their U.S.-based subsidiaries are permitted to donate — but only under strict conditions and if the contributions are not coordinated or directed by a foreign national.
The FEC concluded, however, that Neil Bush discussed the donation with Tang and was aware that Tang and Chen were involved in the contribution, according to the agreement.
In the agreement, APIC contended that it acted in good faith, believing that the donation was permissible because the person who made the decision to give it was its U.S.-citizen executive director. Right to Rise also said it acted in good faith and thought the contribution was legal.
The FEC did not find that there was knowing or willful violation, which would have led to a criminal investigation.
Emails show that Neil Bush, an APIC board member, had solicited donations from Tang during a business trip to Singapore, according to the agreement.
The two men “discussed the possibility of APIC making a contribution” to Right to Rise, the agreement says.
After their conversation, Bush wrote an email to the executive director of APIC that Tang “expressed interest in donating legally through APIC to my brother Jeb’s political action committee.”
Bush consulted Republican campaign finance lawyer Charlie Spies, who was the treasurer and general counsel for Right to Rise. In a memo, Spies outlined the legal requirements regarding such contributions, and Bush provided the memo to Chen and APIC’s executive director.
She replied, the agreement shows, addressing the executive director: “Gordon wants you to follow up on this matter. Pls check with [APIC’s in-house counsel] and contact him by phone.”
FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub tweeted Monday about the agreement: “Foreign interference in our elections is a direct attack on our democracy. I am deadly serious when it comes to tracking down & punishing foreign spending in our elections. The @FEC *will* hold committees to account. And a letter from your lawyer will *not* get you off the hook.”
APIC agreed to $550,000 in civil penalties paid to the FEC and Right to Rise agreed to $390,000.
“Right to Rise conciliated this matter to avoid the cost of litigation and appreciates the commission’s recognition of its extensive compliance efforts,” Spies said.
Mark Irion, spokesman for APIC, said APIC signed the agreement to “put this behind them. . . . They will not be appealing this.”
“Mr. Bush believed that he was acting consistently with the legal advice that he sought, because 100 percent of the contributions were American,” Irion said.
The agreement came in response to a 2016 complaint from the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for greater regulation of campaign finance. The donation was reported by the Intercept.
The conciliation agreement was first reported by Mother Jones, before it was released publicly by the Campaign Legal Center.