This GOP Candidate Is Anti-China. His Family Tried to Build Water Parks There.

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and Public Domain
Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images and Public Domain

Multimillionaire banker Eric Hovde is taking a tough stance on China in his battle to unseat Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin—but corporation records show his brother and business partner once tried to launch an investment vehicle there.

Just before Eric’s first 2012 U.S. Senate bid, his brother Steven set up Hovde China Ventures LLC in the notoriously secretive state of Delaware. According to the few public records available, the entity shut down four years later.

While the brothers have frequently collaborated in real estate and financial ventures, Eric Hovde’s team says Steven embarked on this project solo—and that it involved water parks.

“Eric has not ever done business in China,” Hovde’s spokesman Ben Voelkel told The Daily Beast. “Nothing ended up coming of Steve’s investment interests.”

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Voelkel added that Steven Hovde “was looking to help Wisconsin’s water park industry expand into China.” He said: “The project never got past holding meetings and no investment was ever made. Eric was not involved in this at all.”

Asked for comment himself, Steven Hovde was as opaque as Delaware’s corporation filings. “Eric was not involved at all. Nothing to do with him,” Steven said in an email. “Furthermore, I never did anything in China. The effort was a bust and waste of time.”

Asked for further information on the venture—and whether it was, for example, related to technology or manufacturing—Steven added, “No money was invested. My efforts were a waste of my time and my money. Nothing to do with tech or manufacturing.”

Steven, who bankrolled most of a pro-Hovde PAC to support his brother’s race in the battleground state, added that his own views on China are “irrelevant.”

Still, Eric Hovde—bashed by opponents as a wealthy California carpetbagger with a $7-million Laguna Beach mansion—has made the U.S. economy a central focus of his candidacy and frequently raised the alarm on China.

When the mustachioed businessman toured a Wisconsin dairy farm last month, he said he had “a big problem” with China buying up agricultural land.

“If I were in the Senate,” declared Hovde, who stars in TV commercials for his Utah-based Sunwest Bank, sporting his Tom Selleck-like mustache, “I’d be very focused on what China is doing and why we are allowing them to come to our communities and buy up our land, especially around military bases.”

And in March, Hovde swiped at Baldwin on Fox News, claiming that she backed tax and regulatory policies that ultimately moved manufacturing jobs to China.

This week, he told a local TV outlet that his solution to the fentanyl crisis is to “hammer China,” since it’s a major manufacturer of the drug.

Delaware records obtained by The Daily Beast show Hovde China Ventures was formed in December 2011. The state canceled the LLC’s registration in 2016 over a failure to pay $1,702 in back taxes, which are still listed as due.

The entity shared a similar name to other Hovde family businesses (such as the Hovde Group and Hovde Capital) and the same registered agent service as other firms tied to Eric, including Sunwest Bancorp and the bank’s charitable foundation.

While the Hovdes are adamant the Republican contender had no involvement in the China project—and indeed, there is no public documentation tying him to it—Eric and Steven have led or teamed up on several family businesses for years.

Among them are the Eric and Steven Hovde Foundation, H-Bancorp, a $2.9-billion multibank holding company, and the Madison-based Hovde Properties, whose employees were recently featured as voters (rather than identified as company directors) in a campaign ad.

Steven even introduced Eric at his February campaign kickoff at one of the Hovde family’s Madison luxury buildings, assuring the crowd that his sibling “bleeds Wisconsin Badgers [red] and Green Bay Packers.”

The event arrived as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed Eric transferred his $2.3-million Washington, D.C. home to a trust managed by Steven last August.

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The next day, a pro-Hovde committee, Fix Washington PAC, was formed and Steven contributed $1 million, with others donating its remaining $31,000. Campaign finance records show the group spent $1.5 million on Baldwin attack ads.

Meanwhile, Hovde loaned his campaign $8 million earlier this year and proclaimed his wealth signifies that he “can’t be bought.”

“I don’t need special interest money and I won’t take it,” he tweeted in March.

When Eric Hovde was mulling a Wisconsin gubernatorial run in 2022, he again talked China with local radio host Vicki McKenna, fuming that the nation was “trying to displant us from being the most powerful country in the world.”

Eric Hovde claimed he knew of several people with horror stories of trying to open firms in the Communist country.

“There’s a good-sized business here in Madison… went over to try to open up a plant,” he said. “Within a short amount of time, a plant got opened right across the street. All his intellectual information was stolen. They started producing the same good at a much lower rate. He ended up losing millions upon millions of dollars.”

“I know many stories of that nature,” he said.

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