Hansjorg Wyss, a billionaire Swiss citizen and multi-million dollar Clinton Foundation donor, gave 30 contributions to American political campaigns over a nine-year period, according to an investigation by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Federal law has imposed a strict, across-the-board ban since 1966 on foreign nationals giving to U.S. political campaigns. The ban was later included in the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act. The only exception is for foreign nationals who possess a green card. The ban applies to all levels of political campaigns.
Wyss donated $41,000 to seven congressional candidates and to four national political action committees from 1998 to 2003, according to Federal Election Commission records under the name of Hansjorg Wyss.
Colorado campaign finance records also report that Wyss gave $50,000 to Coloradans for Responsible Growth in March 2000, a statewide environmental political action committee that closed its doors only two years later, in part because it reportedly never filed the required financial statements.
In April 2006, Wyss gave $10,000 to Jim Baca, a Democrat running for New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, according to the State of New Mexico Ethics Administration.
Wyss has a long-term relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as with John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s present national campaign director and former White House Chief of Staff for President Clinton. Wyss committed $5 million to the Clinton Foundation’s “No Ceilings” program to empower women and girls in December 2013.
Wyss paid Podesta $87,000 for “consultant” services when the latter served as a top aide to President Barack Obama. Wyss is a major contributor to the Center for American Progress and a member of its board of directors. The center was founded by Podesta and has received $5.1 million from Wyss since 2011, according to Internal Revenue Service filings.
Lawrence M. Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, told TheDCNF contributions by a foreign citizen are a “serious violation.” Noble was general counsel at the Federal Election Commission for 13 years.
“If he doesn’t have a green card and he’s not a U.S. citizen, then he can’t give to U.S. elections,” Noble said.
Former FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith told TheDCNF that if Wyss gave the donations knowingly and willingly, “the FEC is pretty aggressive in referring this kind of violation to the Department of Justice as a criminal matter.”
Although Wyss has maintained multiple residences in the United States since the 1960’s, he’s never sought U.S. citizenship. He said in a 2014 speech in Bern, Switzerland reported by the Swiss news organization Blick, “I only have a Swiss passport as a proof of identity. No Green Card. No American passport. So here I stand, as a true Swiss, in my homeland,” according to the Swiss media outlet Bite.
Documents obtained by TheDCNF show that Wyss is an E-2 visa holder, and does not have a green card. A Feb. 8, 2010, letter prepared by Wyss lawyer Joseph M. Sedlack said “HJW is lawfully in the U.S. pursuant to a ‘E-2VISA’” and “is not a permanent resident of the US under a ‘green card.’” Sedlack is with the Reed Smith LLP law firm.
TheDCNF also asked Carolyn Short, another Reed Smith attorney who represents Wyss, if Wyss was a U.S. citizen. She did not reply.
Noble said some foreign nationals might plead ignorance but “given his sophistication, he should he have known” that he was not permitted to give to political campaigns. Smith, the former FEC Commissioner, agreed, saying “the guy’s got access to some of the top lawyers in the country.”
In a related development, the Justice Department earlier this month refused to turn over documents sought by Citizens United under the Freedom of Information Act in seeking to understand why Wyss’ top four executives went to jail but he didn’t in a medical scandal in which five patients died as a result of an illegal drug testing program run by his former company.
Wyss was named in 2009 by a federal grand jury as the “Person No. 7” who directed the four jailed executives to ignore federal safety rules requiring the FDA’s prior approval of drug tests on humans. Wyss was CEO of the company, Syntheses, which paid a $22 million fine under the 2011 settlement that sent the four executives to prison.
Justice Department officials claimed release of documents, “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” They also declined to “acknowledge the existence of such records pertaining to this individual.”
Citizens United president David Bossie denounced the rejection, telling TheDCNF “the American people deserve to know what’s going on inside their government, particularly the activities of political appointees at the Justice Department.”
Wyss also now faces racketeering charges in a Washington State civil suit that claims he profiteered in the drug testing scheme that caused the death of 67-year old Reba Golden and four other people.
Additionally, he was at the center of a nasty sexual scandal that allegedly resulted in a private $1.5 million settlement with a former employee. The settlement came to light after Wyss made a $5 million commitment to the Clinton Foundation’s “No Ceilings” project designed to protect women and girls.
Dave Skinner, a researcher with the Hydra Project, noted that Wyss preferred giving funds through his private foundation rather than highly visible political donations. “He’s always been low profile. He’s always operated under the radar,” Skinner said.
Wyss has a penchant for secrecy, claiming in a May, 2011 Swiss newspaper interview that “nobody knows me, and I hope that it stays like this.”