The revelations that businessmen tied to Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash and other foreign interests funneled campaign cash into the coffers of several Republican Party politicians, including the president, senators, U.S. representatives, and governors is like a case of déjà vu. In 1940, the United States first began to take seriously foreign cash donations to U.S. political campaigns in the months preceding the U.S. entry into World War II.
Hans Thomsen, the German chargé d’affaires at the Nazi German embassy in Washington sent a cable to the foreign ministry in Berlin requesting $3,000 for an operation designed to sway fifty delegates to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia to vote for a plank in the GOP platform calling for the United States to remain neutral in the ongoing war in Europe.
Although a current debate is raging about foreign campaign donations from Ukrainian and other foreign interests into the campaigns of elected Republican officials, little has been reported about what the German Nazis were doing in 1940. They were bribing convention delegates to vote for a Republican Party isolationist platform plank, while other Republican interests, linked to the German embassy, were running full-page advertisements in various U.S. newspapers with the motto: “Keep America Out of War.” Although never charged with a crime, because foreign contributions to U.S. politicians and parties were not illegal in 1940, suspicions of some historians have centered on Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota as the German money middleman.
This was the 1940 low-tech version Russian interests buying pro-Donald Trump advertisements on Facebook in 2016. “Make America Great Again” has a decidedly similar nature to the German-financed “Keep America Out of War” slogan. The German envoy told Berlin that for between $60,000 and $80,000, the embassy could ensure widespread newspaper advertisement placement, including in The New York Times, especially during the June 24-28 GOP Convention in Philadelphia.
Thomsen proposed that the Nazi government pay for half of the newspaper ads, while wealthy GOP donors, all linked to the National Committee to Keep America Out of Foreign Wars chaired by Representative Hamilton Fish of New York, would pick up the remainder of the tab. Fish actually employed on his congressional staff a German intelligence agent named George Viereck.
Although the convention nominated non-isolationist Wendell Willkie for president, the GOP platform did contain a plank opposed to U.S. involvement in foreign wars. And icing on the cake for the Germans was that an isolationist, Senator Charles McNary of Oregon, was nominated for vice president.
The German embassy in Mexico City was similarly involved with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The German government wired a whopping $160,000 ($2.8 million in today’s money) to a member of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party to buy off some 40 delegates to vote against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was considered extremely hostile to German interests. Some of the Nazi cash was also earmarked to defeat Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Joseph F. Guffey, who was opposed to Nazi Germany, in the general election. The German ploy backfired badly. All the Pennsylvania delegates voted for FDR, who was nominated by acclamation. However, a watered-down version of the Keep America Out of War was entered into the Democratic platform at the insistence of some isolationist Democratic politicians.
The 1996 presidential election was plagued by foreign cash spigots. It was discovered that Taiwan native John Huang, a former executive for Indonesia’s Lippo Bank and vice president of Worthen Bank of Little Rock, Arkansas—who became the deputy assistant secretary for international economic affairs in President Bill Clinton’s Commerce Department—had steered $156,000 in donations from Lippo employees to Democratic Party campaign coffers. Huang was convicted of a criminal conspiracy charge of violating federal campaign finance laws. Through Huang’s association with James Riady, deputy chairman of the Lippo Group and son of the bank’s founder, Mochtar Riady, Indonesian businessman Ted Sioeng, and Maria Hsia, a Taiwan-born immigration consultant in Los Angeles, investigators believed that money was being laundered into the Democratic National Committee from entities such as China Resources, a firm linked to the intelligence service of the People’s Republic of China. Hsia was subsequently convicted on a federal money laundering charge.
More recently, Cindy Yang, alias Li Yang, the proprietor of a chain of Florida massage parlors, and Charles Lee, alias Li Weitian, Li Ruizhou, Li Chongrui, and Wang Yong Jun, two habitués of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, are suspected of having laundered Chinese money to the Trump campaign. Lee runs an entity called the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association (UNCFA), which has no links to the United Nations and is registered in Delaware. UNCFA was used by Lee to host Trump campaign events at Mar-a-Lago. In reality, Lee is connected to the United Front Work Department of the government of mainland China. Lee also co-owns Birch Branch, Inc., a Denver-based dummy corporation, with Wang Xinshun, a member of the People’s Congress of the province of Henan. The company’s business area is identified as “Gaming, Lodging, and Restaurants.”
The issue of foreign interests buying convention delegates was not an issue in 1940 for either party. But was it a facet of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where it is known that Russian ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak was present and interfacing with key Trump delegates and campaign officials, including Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to remove anti-Russian language from the party platform dealing with the Russian annexation (or retrocession) of Crimea and deleting a plank on U.S. arming of the Ukrainian armed forces.
The major difference between 1940 and 2016 is that it is now illegal for foreign cash to flow into U.S. political campaigns. But does that apply to convention delegates and alternates? Also, current federal election law does not prohibit U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests to donate to U.S. campaigns. Such contributions totaled $4.5 million in the 2016 election. In addition to Russia, Ukraine, and China, foreign campaign cash has been laundered through U.S. lobbyists from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Egypt, South Korea, Bermuda, Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Singapore, Panama, and Luxembourg.
The authority and power of the Federal Election Commission, which would normally rule on the illegality of foreign contributions to U.S. political campaigns, has been emaciated by the Republican Party under Trump. Meanwhile, the foreign spigots of cash have been turned on for the 2020 presidential and down ballot election campaigns.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).