In a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center alleged that an obscure online flower-bouquet company was used as a straw donor by a Chinese man from Guangzhou to illegally conceal the source of donations to a super PAC backing Suarez's bid to be the Republican Party's nominee for president. (Related: INFILTRATION ALERT: CCP-linked media company running influence campaign across US news websites.)
The online flower shop in question, PassionForest LLC, was founded just in 2021 and provided a $500,000 contribution to SOS America in October 2022 while it was operating under the name America For Everyone.
The Campaign Legal Center, in its 27-page complaint to the FEC, noted that PassionForest mostly operates out of China.
Specifically, a trademark application for PassionForest was filed in the United States just four days before the company was registered in Delaware in November 2021. The company is allegedly owned by a man named Rao Juhui, who listed an address in the Tianhe District of Guangzhou in China, "raising the specter that this straw donor scheme was used to conceal illegal foreign national contributions," noted the Campaign Legal Center. The associated Amazon account for PassionForest also lists a Chinese business address.
"PassionForest's only known activity was selling artificial flowers on Amazon.com, supporting the conclusion that it could not have made a $500,000 contribution without someone else – the true contributor – providing it with funds for that purpose," wrote the organization.
The Campaign Legal Center further pointed out that PassionForest's artificial flower business appears to have been shut down around the time of the contribution.
"When someone uses an entity like PassionForest LLC to make a major political contribution to a super PAC while hiding their identity from voters, it's a serious violation of the laws meant to ensure transparency and prevent corruption in our elections," warned Campaign Legal Center Director of Federal Campaign Finance Reform Saurav Ghosh.
Federal regulations prohibit the use of straw donors and require full disclosure of the ultimate source behind any kind of political contribution. People and organizations found to be in violation of FEC rules can face civil fines and prohibitions on campaign activity. The FEC can further refer cases to the Department of Justice for criminal review.
Because PassionForest is actually based in China, the LLC would be considered a "foreign national" and thereby prohibited from donating to political campaigns under federal law.
The Campaign Legal Center noted that SOS America has already spent $3 million on Suarez's 2024 presidential campaign. Among other activities, the super PAC has used the money it has received to create an artificial chatbot with Suarez's voice and likeness to answer questions about the mayor and his presidential aspirations, along with other campaign stunts to promote the mayor's bid.
SOS America has recognized the $500,000 donation from PassionForest. In the memo field for reporting the contribution, the SOS America committee described the company as a "flower wholesaler" followed by a note in the miscellaneous box that the super PAC has asked for contributor info from PassionForest LLC.
SOS America PAC spokesperson Chapin Fay said the super PAC "has always held itself to the highest ethical and legal standards and conducts itself properly in every instance."
"No surprise liberal special interest groups and their allies are lobbing political attacks that are intended to undercut the only Hispanic Republican candidate," said the PAC in an article published on its website following the revelation that the donation is being investigated. "This is nothing more than a political attack and it will be seen for what it is."
Neither Suarez nor his campaign team has immediately responded to requests for comments regarding the donation. But it should be noted that Suarez has no official role within SOS America, due to a federal law requiring PACs to operate independently from official campaigns. Super PACs are also prohibited from directly coordinating their activities with candidates and contributing to their authorized campaigns.
This distance Suarez has from the group might be enough to provide him with plausible deniability and insulate him from any repercussions stemming from the donation.
Corruption.news has more stories about illegal contributions to political campaigns.
Watch this clip from the Next News Network reporting on Suarez's ignorance regarding the crisis befalling the Uyghur people in China.