The fine is the third largest in FEC history, according to the Campaign Legal Center, the nonprofit group that filed the original complaint over the donations in 2019.
“We applaud the FEC for doing their job. Imposing this severe sanction helps protect voters’ voices from being drowned out by foreign corporations and other vested interests,” Adav Noti, vice president and chief legal officer of the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “Super PACs should now be warned that there are major consequences for violating the ban on foreign contributions.”
SIC released the agency’s documents late Friday afternoon. The CLC obtained the documents because of an agency practice that first releases relevant findings to complainants, with the documents being made more widely public about 30 days after initial disclosure.
According to agency documents, Zekelman discussed donations with executives at a U.S.-based subsidiary his company controls, Wheatland Tube, which ultimately contributed to America First Action three times in 2018.
US law prohibits foreign nationals from directly or indirectly making any contribution or donation to federal, state or local elections.
The original complaint was based on a 2019 article from The New York Times, which also first reported the fine on Friday.
The conciliation agreement between Zekelman’s companies – Zekelman Industries and Wheatland Tube – was accepted by the agency on Thursday. In the agreement, the companies maintained that the contributions were “made in good faith, knowing that they were authorized”, and the agency itself “did not find that the violation was conscious or deliberate”. .
The settlement agreement also requires the two companies to ask America First Action to repay the $1.75 million to the companies or give the money to the US Treasury.
Thomas Spulak — an attorney who signed the agreement for the companies — and Zekelman Industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
America First Action sent POLITICO a letter from the FEC dated April 8, noting that the agency rejects its allegations against the PAC regarding contributions from foreign nationals. The FEC voted to close the case on April 6.
“Unlike the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the Federal Election Commission has dismissed the complaint against America First Action because we follow the law,” Brian O. Walsh, president of America First Action, said in a statement. Walsh was referring to the FEC’s decision last month to fine the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign more than $100,000 in 2016, following an investigation into alleged misrepresentation of related expenses. in the Steele file.
Several steel companies have supported Trump with monetary contributions during his tenure, although Zekelman Industries was the largest donor to the steel industry, according to the Times report. Zekelman’s lobbying efforts landed him a private dining room dinner with Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. in the spring of 2018, the report said, where the group discussed inbound U.S. quotas on steel imports in from competitors in South Korea.
Zekelman, who does not have US citizenship, told The Times in 2019 that he was not involved in the decision to donate to America First Action, but had discussed the matter with others. leaders after a PAC representative solicited donations.
He argued that the donation was legal because the final decision to contribute was made by U.S. citizens or legal U.S. residents on his board, noting that the money came from Wheatland Tube, the U.S. subsidiary. from Zekelman Industries.