WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plan a campaign fundraiser for him Thursday in Hong Kong, where U.S. business interests intersect with China's growing influence as a world financial superpower.
The third-highest ranking Republican in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, was due in Hong Kong Thursday to make an appearance at the event, Erica Elliott, a spokeswoman for the California congressman said on Wednesday. Romney campaign spokesman Danny Diaz confirmed the report but added "no other specifics at this time." Business community figures in Hong Kong also confirmed the event.
Hong Kong has been a dependable source of campaign cash for Romney, where expatriate supporters have already raised more than $385,000 for his White House run, according to federal campaign finance records. President Barack Obama's campaign has also mined cash from partisans there, raising $84,000.
Many of both candidates' backers in Hong Kong are business figures who deal regularly with Chinese officials and corporations, a focal point of growing presidential campaign concern over U.S.-China trade friction. Romney and Obama have sparred repeatedly over how to deal with China's growing economic rivalry to the U.S., and the issue looms as a critical talking point in the upcoming presidential debates.
Romney accuses China's government of trade, currency and intellectual property abuses, and says Obama has failed to confront Chinese officials. The Obama campaign said the administration has stood up to China and accused Romney's former firm, Bain Capital, of aiding the shift of American jobs to China. Both China and the U.S. filed World Trade Organization complaints against each other last week for alleged trade violations.
"China has been an 800-pound stage prop and both sides play it," said Bob Kapp, a Washington state-based China consultant and former president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
The Hong Kong event is not Romney's first effort to glean campaign cash there. Two of his sons headlined a fundraiser in Hong Kong last May. And Obama supporters have also been busy in China, gathering in the mainland China city of Shanghai in July for a $10,000 Obama Victory Fund event benefiting both the campaign and Democratic party coffers. Only American citizens and green card holders can donate to U.S. candidates.
One Hong Kong businessman invited to the Romney event identified one of the fundraiser's organizers as Michael G. Desombre, a Hong Kong attorney specializing in mergers and acquisitions and private equity for Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. The businessman, Leland Sun, of Pan Asian Mortgage, said he was told the fundraiser was billed as a small event. Desombre did not return calls for comment.
The event was to be held at Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. Other hosts include John Ying, founding partner of Peak Capital Partners I LP, attorney Thomas Britt and Charles Regan, head of Asia banking at Enclave Capital, Bloomberg reported.
Like many of the Hong Kong-based business figures who have donated to both candidates, Desombre has represented and advised numerous U.S. firms that have invested in Chinese companies. Desombre's web site details his work for Warburg Pincus Asia LLC's multiple investments in Chinese firms, several Goldman Sachs investments in China and the merger of two Chinese power companies. Desombre's firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, also has regularly lobbied in Washington, representing GE, Mitsubishi and the Private Equity Growth Council in recent years.
Romney has benefited from other supporters with extensive business interests in China. Casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who owns gambling resorts in the Chinese protectorate of Macau, has given more than $43 million to political action committees supporting Romney and allied GOP causes. Adelson is the largest individual donor in the 2012 campaign, according to an Associated Press review of campaign records.
Federal campaign finance records through late August show Obama has raised $432 million versus Romney's $274 million since the start of the 2012 campaign. Romney has gained ground in recent months. The Republican National Committee has outraised its Democratic party counterpart, $280 million to $230 million.
In recent weeks, the Romney campaign has made China a central foreign policy issue, pushing new ad campaigns in Ohio and other battleground states that accuse China's government of trade "cheating" and attacking Obama for not pushing back. The Obama campaign has also used China as a campaign scapegoat at times in its ads, criticizing Romney's former private equity firm, Bain Capital, for several investment deals that reportedly shipped U.S. jobs to China.
Romney has also been sensitive to the China issue in his personal finances. Over the past two years, as the presidential race approached, a lawyer overseeing his family's trusts sold off numerous shares of stock in Chinese state-owned firms, including the 2011 sale of shares in a Chinese oil company. Romney had pledged in 2007 to eliminate any investments that conflicted with his political beliefs, but his trusts kept many of the Chinese investments and other politically-sensitive holdings until 2010 and 2011.
Chan reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press writer Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.