Politics

Amid Attack Ad Allegations, Anti-China Jim Lamon Defends Business Ties There

Jim Lamon speaks with attendees at the Rally to Protect Our Elections hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix in 2021.
Jim Lamon speaks with attendees at the Rally to Protect Our Elections hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix in 2021. Gage Skidmore

U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Lamon, who spends a lot of money peddling anti-China rhetoric on the airwaves, is in bed with Chinese Communists, a new political ad claims.


Lamon, who’s using his own fortune to fund his campaign, is accused by political opponents of bashing Beijing and its cronies with money he earned from lucrative dealings with the Chinese Communist Party.


The retired energy executive and political newcomer is in a crowded field trying to secure the Republican nomination in the race to unseat incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.


Spending from his own coffers, Lamon has squandered the support of GOP voters with his own political ads described by critics as out of touch and offensive.


Conservative activist Ned Ryun and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, a Republican who co-founded PayPal with Elon Musk, have lambasted Lamon as a hypocrite and a turncoat “RINO,” a Republican In Name Only.


The Thiel-funded Saving Arizona PAC is behind a recent television ad that dubs the Fountain Hills Republican as “Liberal Pro-China Jim Lamon." Thiel put up $10 million for the PAC, which was created to bolster support for Blake Masters, Lamon’s opponent in the August primary.


Lamon says the pro-China accusations are all political theater. But his professional dealings with China are copious and persistent, U.S. customs records reveal.


“This ad paid for by Blake Masters’ big tech super PAC is ridiculous and comically hypocritical given Masters’ extremely recent and proactive business dealings with China,” Lamon said in a Wednesday email to Phoenix New Times. “Blake has invested in Chinese stem cell research and numerous other Chinese companies and startups, including a company that further outsources our supply chain to China and whose executives were caught illegally donating to his campaign.”

Dubious Dealings With the Chinese

Lamon is the former CEO and founder of DEPCOM Power, a Scottsdale-based utility-scale solar company. Before that, he was the senior vice president of engineering, procurement, and construction at Tempe-based First Solar, Inc.


Lamon sold DEPCOM to Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Engineered Solutions in November for an undisclosed amount as he shifted focus to his Senate bid. Lamon suggested the business sold for around $1 billion, but that figure has been met with skepticism by various people involved in the local political scene.


Speaking about DEPCOM, Lamon said in a February tweet, “I went head to head with the federal government and created a solar business independent of China.”


But it's the anti-China rhetoric that is the focal point of Lamon’s campaign.


“Relying on China for our raw materials and manufacturing has become a national security issue,” Lamon said in a recent press release. “For decades, China has used unfair trade deals to steal intellectual property, damage our businesses, and steal American jobs. We can no longer allow China to take advantage of the United States and our workers.”


In January, Lamon admitted that 5 percent of DEPCOM’s revenue came from a “company in Turkey that is partly owned by China.” Two months later, however, he claimed at a campaign event that DEPCOM did not buy materials from China.


But DEPCOM received nearly 300 shipments, totaling more than 16,000 tons of product, from HT Solar Enerji A.Ş., the Turkish firm partially owned by China.


“Everyone in our country has technology with Chinese parts,” Lamon told New Times. “Just look at your cellphone or computer. The energy industry is no different.”


HT Solar is a subsidiary of the 100 percent Chinese state-owned company HT-SAAE, and produces solar cells and solar modules. Records show DEPCOM is HT Solar’s top trading partner, accounting for nearly half the company’s business.

HT-SAAE is itself a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, also known as CASC.

The state-owned company expanded into Turkey as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, “which proposes to strengthen China’s economic ties with Eurasian countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road running through Southeast Asia and East Africa,” the company said in a 2017 press release.

Lamon chose not to respond to questions about whether he knew that HT Solar was affiliated with the Chinese military.


HT Solar’s website features the HT-SAAE logo and, in a 2020 press release, tagged itself as “the only Chinese state owned solar panel manufacturer.”


In June 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense released a list of 20 Chinese companies, including CASC, that were operating in the U.S. and were tied to the Chinese military. Five months later, President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring Americans from investing in CASC due to its ties to the Chinese Communist regime.


DEPCOM received its final shipment from HT Solar weeks before the executive order, according to records.


CASC posed a direct threat to the U.S. homeland and overseas forces by “exploiting United States capital to resource and to enable the development and modernization of its military” and “deploying weapons of mass destruction, advanced conventional weapons, and malicious cyber-enabled actions against the United States and its people,” according to Trump's executive order.


Socialist Solar


In 2009, with Lamon and First Solar CEO Mike Ahearn at the helm, First Solar and the Chinese government signed an agreement to construct a solar plant in Ordos City, located in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.


Ahearn said First Solar would likely construct a thin-film solar panel factory in China due to its low cost.


As part of the accord, First Solar promised to teach Chinese workers how to build solar plants, create jobs in China, and keep up with American solar competition.


“Discussions with First Solar about building a factory in China demonstrate to investors in China that they can confidently invest in the most advanced technologies available,” said Cao Zhichen, vice mayor of Ordos City, at the time.


Wu Bangguo, then chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Committee, traveled to Scottsdale to tour First Solar’s flagship facility shortly thereafter.


Later in 2009, First Solar signed another agreement with the Chinese government to specify the type of work the company would provide at a bilateral United States-China clean energy summit at which President Barack Obama met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.


The following year, First Solar appeared at the World Expo in Shanghai to speak about its technology.


In 2011, Lamon was poised to advise a state-owned Chinese company on building the facility, and incorporated a First Solar (Beijing) Management Consultancy.


The deal would ultimately fall through in 2014 after Lamon’s departure from First Solar to create DEPCOM.


“Imagine That”

Lamon has raised more money than any other candidate in the Republican primary with $13.8 million — although $13 million of that came from his own loan to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data. He pledged to spend $50 million of his own money by the end of the campaign season.


Masters, who trails Lamon and Mark Brnovich in recent polls, raised just under $4 million but secured a coveted endorsement from Trump — something Lamon lacks.


“I’ve been to China,” Lamon said at a February candidate forum in Phoenix. “I’ve seen how brutal that regime is.”


That’s the stance he has maintained throughout his campaign.


“I don't see why we keep cuddling up to them other than we've had a lot of politicians around the country, particularly in Washington. They've sold out, absolutely taken their Chinese Community Party dollars over the taxpayer,” Lamon said on the political podcast Broken Potholes in November.

Lamon's campaign says he wasn't in China to make any backdoor deals, as the recent Saving Arizona PAC ad suggests. The commercial accuses Lamon of building "four power plants for Communist China."


“Jim has previously traveled to China and saw directly how China works — how they steal technology, cheat on trade deals, pollute our planet, and do not comply with laws that U.S. companies are required per federal law to comply with,” Lamon campaign spokesperson Amy Lannon Wilhite told New Times. “Thus, an unlevel manufacturing playing field for U.S. companies.”


At an opening ceremony for his campaign office in Sun City in March, Lamon said that “people are upset at how people have gone to Washington and forget about us and don't live American values, almost like they're paid for by the Communist Chinese party. Imagine that, right?”


For Lamon, it might not be too hard to imagine.


But he stuck to his guns in comments to New Times.


“I believe Communist China is our enemy, and I will always put America first in the U.S. Senate,” Lamon said. “That’s why I’ve been an outspoken leader for American manufacturing, domestic mining, and imposing tariffs on China.”


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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss