September 26, 2012

Romney fundraiser planned Thursday in China

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — 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.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pauses during a campaign rally, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

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.

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