Swalwell donor convicted of giving him illegal campaign contributions

Rep. Eric Swalwell announcing the end of his campaign for president during a press conference Monday afternoon in Dublin.

Powerful Dublin developer James Tong was convicted on Oct. 8 of two counts of illegally directing $38,000 in campaign funds through “straw men” to East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell’s campaigns in 2012 and 2014. The legal limit for individual contributions, at the time, was $2,500. Tong could spend two years in prison for the violation.

The appearance of Tong bundling maxed-out contributions to Swalwell’s 2012 congressional campaign from family members was first written in the East Bay Express prior to the November election that year, in which Swalwell defeated 40-year incumbent Rep. Pete Stark.

During the trial, it was learned the effort by Tong went further. He also sought help in the effort to flout campaign finance laws, including dozens of potential donors, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Tong then indirectly reimbursed the donors, according to prosecutors.

Swalwell said he was unaware of Tong’s efforts until he was contacted by the F.B.I. in 2017. He later donated the contributions to charity, Swalwell said.

“Justice was served for a campaign supporter of mine who violated the law,” Swalwell said in a statement following Tong’s conviction. “From the moment I was notified that my campaign was a victim of fraud, I assisted the FBI to obtain the records they needed to conduct their investigation.”

Nevertheless, Tong was one of a small handful of Tri-Valley businessman who helped seed Swalwell’s surprising upset of Stark seven years ago. Swalwell was elected to the Dublin City Council only a year prior to announcing his campaign in 2011 for Stark’s entrenched seat in Congress.

A heavy underdog and virtually unknown in 2012, Swalwell relied on the early help of Tri-Valley insiders like Tong and Tea Party voices in the area riled by Stark’s progressive leadership over the years.