FEC Fines Wheatland Tube $975K for Contributions to Trump PAC

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Federal Election Commission has fined Canadian billionaire Barry Zekelman and his associated Wheatland Tube and its parent company, Zekelman Industries, $975,000 for illegally contributing to a super PAC aligned with former President Donald J. Trump.

The fine, reported to be the third-largest in FEC history and the largest violation of the foreign national contribution ban, was imposed by a civil settlement agreement.

It results from a complaint filed with the FEC in May 2019 by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit campaign financing watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.

The CLC reported the fine April 11 in a story on its website. It was first reported locally this morning by the Sharon Herald.

The donations were made to America First Action Inc. in 2018. AFA described itself at the time as “the primary super PAC dedicated to electing federal candidates who support the agenda of the Trump-Pence administration.”

Wheatland Tube operates plants in Warren and Wheatland, Pa., where it is based.

The settlement agreement lists “three contributions that Wheatland Tube made to AFA: $1 million on April 5, 2018; $250,000 on June 4, 2018; and $500,000 on October 17, 2018.”

In May 2021, Barry Zekelman visited Wheatland Tube in Warren to announce a $30 million expansion there.

According to FEC documents, Zekelman discussed Wheatland Tube’s potential contributions to America First” with Mickey McNamara, president of Wheatland Tube and general counsel of Zekelman Industries.

“McNamara, in a sworn declaration, states that after speaking with Zekelman, he made the decision, in consultation with [Mike] Graham, [Zekelman Industries chief financial officer], to contribute to AFA. McNamara attests that he exercised “independent judgment and determined that the contributions were an appropriate and beneficial corporate expenditure,” because he “believed that President Trump’s trade policies were well-aligned with Wheatland Tube’s corporate interests.”

McNamara and Graham said “[t]hey did not know that having Mr. Zekelman participate in communications about a contribution … could have any legal implications,” according to the settlement agreement.

The contributions to the super PAC were funded by Wheatland Tube’s corporate accounts, the document states.

“Following the initial $1 million contribution in April, Zekelman was invited to the Trump International Hotel in the District of Columbia,” the watchdog group states.

“He used the opportunity to lobby then-President Trump to support limiting steel imports and curbing regulations that cap the number of hours truck drivers can be on the road, policies that would alleviate key challenges facing his company.”

In May 2021, Zekelman visited the Wheatland Tube plant in Warren to announce a $30 million investment there to create an automated storage and retrieval warehouse.

The project is a continuation of the $500 million in investments that Zekelman Industries has made since the announcement of Section 232 tariffs, which have stemmed the import of pipe and tube imports into the United States, The Business Journal reported May 26.

In September 2021, Zekelman was the keynote speaker at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber annual Salute to Business.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.