By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
A pro-Trump super PAC has refunded a $500,000 contribution to AshBritt, the Deerfield Beach-based government disaster contractor that a Washington watchdog group says violated the ban on pay-to-play political donations.
U.S. law has long prohibited federal contractors like AshBritt from contributing to political committees to influence federal elections as they were negotiating or performing on contracts. The prohibition was aimed at assuring the public that taxpayer-funded federal contracts aren’t for sale, and to prevent politicians from shaking down contractors for donations.
America First Action, which is currently winding down, is an independent expenditure-only political action committee. It described itself as “the primary super PAC dedicating to electing federal candidates who support the agenda of the Trump-Pence administration.”
Federal election records show that AshBritt contributed $500,000 to America First Action on April 11, 2018. A few months later, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission asking that it investigate and seek “appropriate sanctions.”
In its August 2018 complaint against AshBritt, the CLC cited several then-active contracts between AshBritt and the U.S. government, including a $41.7-million contract with the Department of Defense as well as a separate “supplemental agreement valued at $459,675 one day before making the contribution.”
Three weeks after the complaint was filed with the FEC, the PAC reattributed the half-a-million dollar donation to AshBritt’s founder and chairman, Randal (Randy) Perkins. If it were Perkins’s personal funds, it would be legal because there are no limits on what an executive of a government contractor can contribute to a super PAC.
At the time, however, Perkins told Roll Call “he paid for the contribution from his personal money but it came from a loan distribution account that he maintains in the company name.” According to the CLC, “it is not clear why Perkins would maintain his ‘personal money’ in the company’s name, but regardless of accounting mechanisms, Perkins’s statement appears to confirm that money from an AshBritt account was contributed to a super PAC, which is illegal.”
An FEC spokesman told Florida Bulldog that there are no publicly filed documents indicating that the case against AshBritt has been closed, and that until then he could not comment further.
The FEC appears to still be investigating AshBritt for making an illegal corporate contribution. If so, it could be seeking what it considers to be a significant fine. What AshBritt would want to avoid is a referral to the Justice Department. A criminal conviction could get the company barred from participating in federal contracts, the so-called “corporate death penalty.”
The AshBritt donation isn’t the only controversial contribution accepted by America First. Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating allegedly fraudulent transfers to several entities by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, including $325,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC.
Parnas and Fruman, Russian-born associates of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, were arrested in October 2019 and charged with campaign finance violations. Both men were indicted on additional federal charges last September, and both are named as defendants in a civil suit in federal court in West Palm Beach brought by the Pues Family Trust. The trust contends it is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars it lent to Parnas.
AshBritt has an interesting history. Randy Perkins ran a small, Hialeah-based landscaping company called Land-Tech Designs when Hurricane Andrew launched his career as a cleanup contractor in August 1992. Two months later, he and his wife Saily incorporated AshBritt, named for daughters Ashley and Brittany.
According to a Perkins on-site biography, AshBritt “has executed more than 230 disaster response and recovery missions and numerous special environmental projects across the U.S., including the largest single U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract for debris cleanup ever, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.’’
In May 2006 Perkins testified during a House Committee on Government Reform investigation of fraud and waste in the Katrina cleanup. The committee later determined that AshBritt and other contractors inflated costs.
In 2016, Randy Perkins stepped down as AshBritt CEO “to focus on the AshBritt Foundation, his work with mental health and other business and philanthropic endeavors,” his biography says. His daughter Brittany Perkins Castillo took over as CEO. That same year Randy Perkins was the Democrat candidate who sought to succeed retiring Congressman Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. He lost to Republican Brian Mast.
Randy Perkins is president of the AshBritt Foundation. The 501c3’s 2019 federal tax return, the latest that’s publicly available, states that it only contributes to pre-selected charitable organizations and doesn’t accept unsolicited requests for funds.
The foundation listed donations it sent to more than a dozen charities, including Hollywood’s Best Buddies International, $88,750, St. Thomas Aquinas Baseball of Fort Lauderdale, $600, and the Rebuild NorthBay Foundation of Sonoma, CA, $225,000.
The AshBritt Foundation listed one other “charitable” contribution that stands out: $10,000 to The Mar-a-Lago Club LLC of Palm Beach, then-President Donald Trump’s for-profit oceanfront estate.