Perdue’s Shaky Claim of a Nonexistent ‘Investigation’

A TV ad from Republican Sen. David Perdue’s campaign claims a supposed “China scandal” involving his challenger, Democrat Jon Ossoff, “keeps getting worse.” But it’s the distortions of the facts that are getting worse, not any “scandal.”

The ad claims Ossoff “could face federal investigation,” but there’s no indication of that. The only support for the claim is a Dec. 8 letter the Georgia Republican Party sent to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics asking for an investigation. We asked the Georgia GOP whether the committee had responded to the request, and a spokeswoman declined to answer.

The Georgia GOP is asking the committee to investigate a rival candidate in the middle of an election, and Perdue is using that request to make the improbable claim that there could be an investigation. Perdue and Ossoff are facing off in a Jan. 5 runoff that will help determine which party will control the Senate.

The issue concerns Ossoff’s financial disclosure reports. He didn’t disclose some payments received by his broadcast production company in his May filing, but amended the report to include the additional payments two months later, in a July report. We wrote about this in November.

The Senate Select Committee on Ethics “does not have authority to investigate allegations made against candidates,” Bryson B. Morgan, a member of the law firm Caplin & Drysdale who previously was investigative counsel for the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics, told us in an email. “Instead, the Committee’s jurisdiction extends to ‘the conduct of individuals in the performance of their duties as Members of the Senate, or as officers or employees of the Senate,’” he said, citing the committee’s “Rules of Procedure.”

Abigail Sigler, a spokeswoman for the Georgia GOP, told us: “Candidates for US Senate are required to file financial disclosures with the Senate Ethics Committee, and therefore it falls under their jurisdiction.”

But she didn’t answer whether the committee had responded to the request, and Morgan, who advises candidates and officeholders on matters involving the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, told us the committee “arguably would have jurisdiction” if Ossoff wins the election. But even then, “such an investigation is extremely unlikely,” both because the committee “rarely conducts investigations” and the issue is moot. Ossoff “proactively corrected the issue by filing an amendment,” Morgan said.

The Georgia GOP’s letter claims Ossoff “willfully and knowingly failed” to disclose “ties to controversial companies,” but there’s no evidence Ossoff willfully left out the information in the May report. The Ossoff campaign said it was “a paperwork oversight” that was “rectified” in the July amended filing. The GOP letter asserts voters “were left in the dark” during the primary, which was held on June 9.

Ossoff’s Financial Disclosures

As we wrote in November, Ossoff’s production company received payments from a Hong Kong media company and Al Jazeera for the rights to air investigative pieces. Ossoff is managing director and CEO of Insight TWI, a London-based documentary and TV production company. Republicans have misleadingly claimed Ossoff got cash from “Chinese communists and terrorist sympathizers.”

The Perdue campaign ad, which began airing on Dec. 19, according to AdImpact, revisits the issue, claiming the “scandal … keeps getting worse.” But the only new development is the Georgia GOP’s letter asking for an ethics investigation.

In Ossoff’s May 15 financial disclosure filing, he listed 21 TV or broadcasting groups around the world from which Insight TWI received more than $5,000 in compensation in the past two years. Two months later, on July 10, Ossoff filed an amended report that included 32 TV or broadcasting groups that had paid Insight TWI. 

Those that he had left out of the initial report included PCCW Media Limited in Hong Kong and Al Jazeera Media Network in Doha, Qatar.

The Perdue ad focuses on the payment from the Hong Kong company, claiming Ossoff was “paid by the communist Chinese government through a media company.” It cites an October Townhall article that says PCCW is “partially owned by China Unicom, a company maintained by the Chinese government.”

The Financial Times reported in 2009 and 2010 that the state-owned China Unicom was the second-largest shareholder of PCCW, behind owner Richard Li.

So, a partly state-owned company paid Ossoff’s company to air TV segments. Ossoff’s campaign says there was another layer of separation in the transaction. Miryam Lipper, a spokesperson for the campaign, told us Insight TWI, which “conducts international investigations that have exposed corrupt officials, organized crime, and war criminals around the globe,” licenses its documentaries to both TV stations and distributors. In the case of PCCW, TWI licensed documentaries to the distributor Sky Vision, which then licensed two investigations of Islamic State war crimes to PCCW.

“TWI would never have sold anything to PCCW directly, just received a royalty check from Sky Vision,” Lipper said, when we wrote about this issue before.

The campaign has since said that royalty payment was about $1,000. That’s below the reporting requirement. The Senate financial disclosure forms ask about “compensation of more than $5,000 from a single source in the two prior years.”

In response to questions about Perdue’s ad, Lipper told us: “Jon fully discloses the TV stations and distributors in dozens of countries and on every continent that have aired his company’s work. Revisions to financial disclosures to ensure they are accurate and complete are totally normal.”

The Ossoff campaign points out that Perdue has amended his financial disclosures many times over the years. Perdue’s financial disclosures show he amended his reports every year from 2014 to 2018, often more than once per year.

The Perdue ad claims Ossoff “tried hiding” the payments from PCCW and “got caught, then lied.” But Ossoff disclosed the payments himself in July. Articles about the payments from PCCW and Al Jazeera appeared afterward, based on Ossoff’s amended report.

John Burke, a spokesman for the Perdue campaign, told us Ossoff “hid this information from voters in his own party,” since it was disclosed after the Democratic primary. As for lying, Burke said Ossoff had “changed his story,” but the evidence doesn’t support that. Ossoff’s campaign said the omission was “a paperwork oversight,” and now the campaign says the payment from PCCW was actually below the threshold of reporting requirements. Lipper told the National Review that both statements were true.

As for the ad’s claim that “now Ossoff could face federal investigation,” as we said that’s unlikely and based only on the Georgia GOP’s request for an investigation.

Lipper, with the Ossoff campaign, told us this was “an utterly false and desperate complaint, which will go nowhere.”

She added: “This is a laughable partisan smear by David Perdue and his allies to distract from the actual federal investigations Perdue has been under this year.”

According to a Nov. 25 New York Times article, the Justice Department this spring looked into Perdue’s stock trades, but closed the case without filing any charges.

Eugene Kiely contributed to this story.

Updated, Dec. 23: We updated the story to include information from the Perdue campaign.

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