Shanghai Calling

China-based donor to pro-Obama Super PAC has Cayman Islands connections

Robert Roche / Denver University
September 11, 2012

A top Obama campaign bundler living in Shanghai, China, is an international businessman with ties to the Cayman Islands.

Robert W. Roche has lived in China and Japan for the past 27 years, although he maintains a residence in Chicago. He has used his extensive connections to raise money for the Obama campaign, and has pledged to raise $500,000 for the Obama campaign this year, an upgrade from the $100,000-200,000 he agreed to raise four years ago. He donated the maximum $50,000 allowable to Obama’s inauguration fund in 2009.

Roche’s wife, Ritsuko Hattori-Roche, along with Roche’s business partner Don Yang, are the sole stockholders of Bireme Limited, a Cayman Islands-based company.

The Roches and Yang used their business in the Cayman Islands to orchestrate the purchase in 2011 of a majority of the stocks of Acorn International, a Chinese infomercial company that Yang and Mr. Roche cofounded in 1998. Acorn’s board objected to the purchase offer, calling it "inadequate … opportunistic," and "coercive," and charged that it would give the Roches and Yang a majority share of the company’s stocks, effectively giving them control of the company.

Acorn International has not returned a request for comment.

Ms. Hattori-Roche is also the grantor of Catalonia Holdings LTD, a company in Jersey, an island off the French Coast.

In addition to his bundling pledges and direct donations to the Obama campaign, Roche also donated $100,000 to Obama’s Super PAC, Priorities USA—including a $50,000 donation made shortly after Obama announced his personal approval of the group. Obama initially opposed Super PACs, which allow unlimited donations, but reversed his opposition in February and allowed his campaign to direct donors to Priorities USA.

The Super PAC became the object of intense controversy this summer after it released an advertisement suggesting that Republican nominee Mitt Romney may have been responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife from cancer.

On July 11 of this year, Roche hosted a kick-off fundraiser in Shanghai, China, for the Obama Victory Fund at his hotel in downtown Shanghai, URBN. URBN’s website describes it as "a boutique hotel set in the heart of Shanghai's downtown area."

Roche has not just donated to Obama, however. Mr. Roche contributed $375,809 to Democratic campaigns and committees between 2007 and 2012, including donations to John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Chris Dodd.

The Obama administration has granted Roche extensive access to key administration officials. White House records show that Mr. Roche has visited the White House 24 times during Obama’s term, and has held meetings with former chief of staff William Daley and Obama adviser Peter Rouse.

In 2010, Obama appointed Roche to his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Roche is also a co-chair of the technology wing of Obama’s campaign, Technology for Obama.

The Obama campaign did not return a call for comment.

Roche grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated from Marist High School, a Catholic high school that in 2011 had an annual tuition of $10,000. He attended Illinois State University, where he majored in economics and Japanese studies.

He has extensive business connections in Asia. He has chaired the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, and has served as a governor of the American Chamber of Commerce Japan, as well as a board member of the Shanghai 2010 World Expo’s USA Pavilion.

In 1991 he founded Oak Lawn Marketing, which "concentrates on introducing successful U.S. products to the Japanese market."

Roche has used his profits to set up multiple trusts for his "lineal descendants."