Biden Asia Czar Will Recuse Himself from Issues that Pose Conflicts of Interest, White House Says

Kurt Campbell founded and ran 'shadow lobbying group' that advised corporations doing business in Asia

Kurt Campbell
Kurt Campbell / Getty Images
February 5, 2021

President Joe Biden's Asia czar will recuse himself from issues that could pose conflicts of interest with his prior work as a consultant for companies doing business in Asia, a White House spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon.

Kurt Campbell, Biden's director of Asia policy at the National Security Council, founded and ran the Asia Group, a consulting firm that bills itself as "the premier strategic advisory firm to the world's leading companies seeking to excel across Asia." Government ethics experts had noted that the firm does not disclose its clients and raised concerns that Campbell could encounter conflicts of interest in his administration role, the Free Beacon reported Thursday.

The White House said that Campbell, who stepped down as the company's CEO in January, will list his former clients in his public disclosure report. Campbell has also divested from the Asia Group and from its investment-bank arm, the Asia Group Capital Advisory Partners (TAG Capital), according to the White House.

"Kurt fully divested from the Asia Group on assuming his position at the NSC," said the White House spokesman. "He will list all his clients on his 278 form, and will work with White House Counsel on any necessary recusals to avoid perception of a conflict of interest."

Corporate records show Campbell founded the consulting firm in 2012, during his final months serving as an assistant secretary at the State Department. He spent the past eight years as CEO, stepping down on Jan. 14 after Biden appointed him to his current position.

Jeff Hauser, the director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, described the Asia Group as a "shadow lobbying firm." He said such firms, which have become prevalent in Washington, provide lobbying-like services but are not required to disclose their clients because they don't meet the legal threshold of a registered lobbying group.

The Asia Group says on its website that it "represents a diverse client base in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, from leading Fortune 500 multinational corporations to cutting-edge early-stage companies" in the defense, tech, aviation, and medical industries in Asia.

The co-owner of TAG Capital is Robert Roche, an American expat who lives in Shanghai and runs a multibillion-dollar labyrinth of Chinese and Cayman Islands-based media and technology companies. His flagship corporation, Acorn International, describes itself as "a leading direct marketing and branding company in China," with a diverse range of holdings in the advertising, e-commerce, and food sectors.

Roche's conglomerate is heavily regulated by the Chinese government, the company disclosed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and parts of its business operate "under a legal regime consisting of the State Council, which is the highest authority of the executive branch of the [People's Republic of China] central government, and several ministries and agencies under its authority."

Published under: Kurt Campbell