Dem senator’s campaign took cash linked to Chinese landowners

(Image courtesy Unsplash)

(Image courtesy Unsplash)

Mary Lou Masters
Daily Caller News Foundation

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s campaign has taken in thousands of dollars in donations linked to two Chinese conglomerates that own U.S. farmland, despite Tester’s stated opposition to the sale of land to foreign adversaries.

Tester’s 2024 reelection campaign launched a new television advertisement on Nov. 9 advocating against Chinese companies buying American farmland, and touting his legislation to bar such transactions with foreign adversaries. However, the senator’s campaign has received thousands of dollars from Chinese state-owned agriculture company Syngenta’s PAC, which has roughly 1,500 acres of American farmland, and a lobbyist for Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, which owns about 180,000 acres.

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“Let me be clear, China is the greatest threat facing our nation. They’ve been undercutting American jobs for generations. Their fentanyl is wreaking havoc on Montana’s communities. They’ve even flown spy balloons across their state,” Tester said in the ad. “So when I found out that Chinese corporations were buying American farmland, I went to work with my Republican colleagues and said, ‘not on my watch.’ Whatever it takes, I’ll defend Montana and I’ll keep our nation safe.”

After Syngenta was bought by Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina in 2017, Tester’s campaign received $3,500 in campaign contributions from the corporation’s PAC in 2018, just ahead of Tester’s reelection in November, according to FEC filings. Laura Peterson, a registered lobbyist for Syngenta, also donated $250 to the senator’s campaign during the same time period in March 2018.

Republican Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin mandated Syngenta sell 160 acres of its land in the state on Oct. 17, citing concerns over ties with China. The state also fined the agriculture business $280,000 for not promptly reporting its affiliation with the foreign adversary.

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Syngenta’s PAC also gave the campaign $4,500 prior to its acquisition by the Chinese conglomerate, according to FEC filings.

“Syngenta’s PAC is a 100% employee-funded organization that allows its American employees — Americans working for American agriculture — to proudly support legislators who support American farmers,” Saswato Das, spokesperson for the company, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “We make contributions to legislators in accordance with an established set of rules and procedures, governed by a PAC board. Senator Tester is a farmer and a strong advocate for American agriculture – something we need more of in Congress.”

Tester’s campaign raked in $2,500 from Smithfield Foods lobbyist Todd Wooten in July of 2023, after the organization was purchased by Chinese pork company WH Group in 2013, according to FEC filings.

Smithfield Foods makes up about half of the 350,000 acres of U.S. farmland owned by Chinese companies, according to The Wall Street Journal. The WH Group’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods was seen as one of the largest Chinese takeovers of a U.S. company at the time.

“Jon Tester makes decisions based on what is best for Montana and our national security, which is why he’s proud to introduce legislation preventing foreign adversaries from controlling American farmland,” a campaign spokesperson told the DCNF in a statement.

Tester co-sponsored the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act of 2023 in March, as well as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in June, to bar China, Iran, Russia and North Korea from purchasing American farmland. Out of the four adversaries, China owns the most U.S. farmland at over 352,000 acres.

The senator has held his seat since 2007, but could face stiff opposition from a Republican challenger in 2024 with either former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy or Rep. Matt Rosendale, who’s considering a run. Montana is a solidly red state that has overwhelmingly supported former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Tester’s seat is characterized by The Cook Political Report as in the “Lean D” category, along with other races in Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Smithfield Foods, Peterson and Wooten did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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