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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Another tale of foreign money and influence pops up this election season

Longtime Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy in 2014.

Longtime Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy in 2014. Credit: UPPA / Zuma Press / TNS / Billy Bennight

President Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis has overshadowed new corruption allegations against a big Republican fundraiser. This may be a small gift for the national GOP during the election season.

Once again the Foreign Agents Registration Act comes into play. With prosecutors citing the law's provisions, longtime Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy is charged with conspiring to act illegally as a foreign agent while lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese government interests.

Broidy and others allegedly conducted "back-channel, unregistered campaigns" to wield influence. The efforts failed, prosecutors said.

Many of these shadowy little enterprises do.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller made repeated use of the foreign agents act when he probed Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics. Before that, the disclosure statute had gone largely unenforced for decades.

The charges against Broidy arise as Trump is screaming, based on nothing, for his Justice Department to indict Democrats such as presidential challenger Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama. Broidy raised millions of dollars for Trump's 2016 effort, after candidate Trump had indicated he was self-funding his campaign.

The Broidy case involves Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, who prosecutors say funneled tens of millions of dollars into the United States to squelch a probe of his transactions. That investigation involved the alleged theft of billions of dollars from a Malaysian state fund. The defendant has been charged but is believed to be in China, protected from extradition.

In August, authorities arrested former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who as 2016 Trump campaign chief targeted Hillary Clinton's links to "global" economic interests. The charges against Bannon involve an alleged scam surrounding construction of Trump's border wall. Bannon was taken into custody aboard the yacht of Chinese billionaire émigré Guo Wengui, who fell out of favor with Beijing in 2015.

The FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have been investigating whether Guo violated securities laws in a private deal involving the company GTV Media.

One year ago, two business associates of Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were indicted, along with two co-defendants, on charges that they conspired to violate the ban on foreign donations and contributions in connection with federal and state elections. They're awaiting trial. The cash at issue comes out of Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, Republican efforts seem to have fallen short of the goal of digging up legitimate evidence of high-level wrongdoing involving Hunter Biden's sinecure with a Ukrainian gas company years ago when his father, Joe Biden, was vice president.

Concerns about foreign money also have arisen in the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Rusal, a Russian aluminum company, invested heavily in a mill planned for eastern Kentucky. But a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election meddling called Rusal a "proxy for the Kremlin." This raised questions from Democrats about McConnell's efforts to lift certain sanctions on Moscow.

Representing foreign interests has long been a lucrative activity among the politically connected from both major political parties. Despite nationalist sloganeering about "America first," the lobbying on behalf of foreigners goes on unabated in Washington, D.C. On deals for military equipment, big spenders on U.S. influence include South Korea, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Broidy, based in Los Angeles, played a role in a major New York State scandal years ago. He admitted in 2009 to making nearly $1 million in gifts to state pension fund officials in a "pay to play" scheme, but he ultimately was spared jail time. Despite that, he became deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2017 to 2018.

The swamp lives on.