Friends in high places: Major Obama donors with interests in China

The Chinese flag: a red background with yellow stars
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

President Obama meets with China’s head of state, Xi Jinping, today, and is expected to spend much of it urging the Chinese leader to support U.S. efforts to isolate Russia after its annexation of Crimea, as well as discuss global warming and the nuclear threat in North Korea, reports the Wall Street Journal. Not mentioned in news reports, however, is that several of Obama’s major donors have deep business interests in China, and that their agendas have been aided by Administration officials in the past.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks Animations (DWA), met Xi in Los Angeles in 2012, where the Financial Times reported the Chinese president-in-waiting voiced his personal support for DWA’s plans to open a massive new animation studio in Shanghai in partnership with three Chinese film companies. Last week, Katzenberg unveiled the plans for the Shanghai Dream Center, which different reports have at costing $2.4 or $3.1 billion. Sunlight wondered aloud in April 2012 whether the animation executive’s access to Chinese and White House officials was greased by his substantial political giving. The New York Times reported in September 2012 that internal campaign documents showed Katzenberg sits at number one on the list of top all-time Obama bundlers. Along with his fundraising partner Andy Spahn, he brought in a combined $6.6 million in contributions to the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and rubbed shoulders with the president at several fundraisers over that same time period. He also cut a whopping $2 million check to Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting Obama’s re-pelection bid.

Variety reported that Katzenberg, along with Disney executive Robert Iger, also played the role of advisor to Vice President Joe Biden during 2011 talks negotiations with the People’s Republic of China government over allowing U.S. films to be distributed in the Chinese market.

Dreamworks Animation was one of the studios named in a 2012 Reuters report on an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over whether the film companies had made illegal bribes to Chinese officials. Although the SEC has not publicly commented, the investigation appears to be ongoing.

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs is the founder and former CEO of semiconductor producer Qualcomm, a $2 million donor to Priorities USA and a 2012 bundler for Obama, where he brought in at least $500,000. Though Jacobs announced his retirement from the company board in 2011, he still retains a large chunk of the company he founded and maintains close ties to the White House. Forbes reports the telecom pioneer attended a state dinner with the French president as the President’s guest in February and in May will break bread with the president again at a DCCC fundraiser at his home in La Jolla.

In November of last year, China’s National Development and Reform Commission — the nation’s trust buster watchdog — raided Qualcomm’s Chinese headquarters over allegations of “overcharging” and “abusing [its] dominance” in the Chinese market according to Reuters.

Robert Roche

While Robert Roche may not be a household name, Breitbart reported in 2012 that the American expatriate — who they deemed a “cancer at the center of the presidency” — was apparently influential enough to bump Henry Kissinger and the CEOs of Disney, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan to the “cheap seats” at a 2011 state dinner in China with the president.

Roche lives in China, where he runs Acorn International, a direct sales company that peddles to credit card holders at Chinese state-owned banks. The China-based businessman bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 in 2008, while in 2012 he raked in over $500,000 for the president’s re-election bid. Roche took an active role in the campaign — he co-chaired Technology for Obama (a fundraising effort aimed at the tech community) — and he was nominated by the president to serve on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations.

A former senior FBI official told Breitbart at the time, “Roche fits the classic profile of someone the Chinese use as ‘agents-of-influence.’ They set these guys up in business in China and then let them use their access to gain influence and recognition.”