SRSLY

The best reporting you probably missed

David Epstein

Welcome to SRSLY, an (experimental) newsletter highlighting under-exposed accountability journalism. We’ll distill the important information from investigative reporting you probably missed, and deliver it to you in three-minutes-or-less worth of reading. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. (You can, of course, unsubscribe at the first whiff of a bad joke.)

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In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of dough on political activities, so long as it’s done independent of a party or candidate. (As an aside, we’d like you to know that you can contribute as much as you want to the ProPublica snack cache. We would never be influenced by money, or pretzels, but I know investigative reporters on full stomachs are more likely to investigate that thing you are sure is important but that everybody else thinks is lame. Just saying.) One of the concerns about the so-called “Citizens United” ruling was that foreign corporations would find ways to influence elections. And now they have. Japanese corporation Nintendo has ensured 30-and-under voting will be nonexistent at polling stations that don’t harbor a Pokemon. But also possibly of interest: An investigation by The Intercept found that California-based investment company (it’s really hard to tell what it invests in beyond real estate) American Pacific International Capital Inc., owned by a Chinese couple, found a way to contribute $1.3 million to the Jeb Bush Super PAC Right to Rise USA. But, actually, so? That alone isn’t really the interesting part. Your three Ws:

What is the interesting part?

Well, according to The Intercept, that the contribution may well have violated the law, which bars foreign owners from any involvement in the political donation decision-making of their U.S.-based companies. According to a memo obtained by The Intercept, the Chinese owners were following a strategy laid out for them by a politically powerful American lawyer. (The lawyer told The Intercept that his memo was meant “to ensure compliance with the law.”) But actually, that’s still not the most interesting part.

What, for goodness sake, is the most interesting part?

To me, the most interesting part is how one of the Chinese owners — Gordon Tang — offered an Intercept reporter 200,000 dollars (not sure what country’s dollars he meant) if she didn’t mention unverified claims on Chinese-language websites that accused him of criminal activity. (It’s also interesting that the reporter recorded the convo.)

What’s most important, though?

Overall, the multi-part Intercept investigation is basically the first, published, step-by-step account of how the Citizens United ruling allows foreign-owned businesses to use domestic companies or subsidiaries to attempt to influence the American political process. Am I worried about that? I dunno, there’s a Pokemon under my desk, so I can’t pay attention right now.

They Said It

“I don’t even know why you want to be a reporter, reporters make so little money.” — Gordon Tang, to the reporter he offered money. I’m sure she hadn’t thought of that.


SRSLY Shortstack

Not to be confused with the World Anti-Dope Agency, which regulates those who text while driving at night, the World Anti-Doping Agency is meant to root out illicit drug use among athletes, even when that means causing some embarrassment for the people who run sports. The Rio Olympics, which open today, have been roiled by an elaborate, state-sponsored doping scheme in Russia that included a Russian secret policeman sneaking pee samples through a hole in the wall of the anti-doping laboratory used at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (His mother is very proud.) In an exclusive interview with ProPublica, Jack Robertson, the man who helped take down Lance Armstrong and then led WADA’s investigation that ultimately revealed the Russian shenanigans, says that he had to leak info to the media to force the WADA president to approve a serious investigation. Robertson says he has never in his career been more disillusioned. And he spent most of his career investigating a Mexican drug cartel that pioneered the practice of dissolving people in acid. Let’s just say, his disappointed is a higher bar than yours.

Tweet of the Week

That kind of week.

(@jasongay on Twitter)

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.