Company funneled illegal funds to Oakland political campaigns

An Oakland plumbing products manufacturer has agreed to a hefty $114,400 in fines for laundering illegal campaign donations to Oakland City Council and mayoral candidates through its employees.

By organizing $23,900 in campaign donations to six candidates in 2012 and 2014 through 17 officers and employees, AB&I Foundry — a subsidiary of Burmingham, Alabama-based McWane, Inc. — exceeded Oakland’s campaign contribution limit of $700, according to the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

In this way, the company donated $6,300 to Ignacio De La Fuente’s bid for at-large councilman in 2012, $2,100 to Desley Brooks’ 2014 City Council re-election, $6,300 to Joe Tuman’s 2014 mayoral campaign, $2,100 to Mayor Jean Quan’s 2014 re-election campaign, $2,500 to Bryan Parker’s 2014 mayoral campaign and $4,600 to City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan’s 2014 mayoral campaign.

Of those, only Brooks won her race, though Kaplan remains on the City Council.

According to officials at parent company McWane, AB&I was reimbursing employees for the contributions. The donations were contrary to company policies, and once the violations came to light the company hired independent investigators for a review. It is retraining staff on election law.

In a statement, AB&I executive vice president Kurt Winter said:

“AB&I takes full responsibility for this mistake. … Although we did not realize that these reimbursements were a violation, we should have.”

Winter added:

“Furthermore, AB&I management should not have created a situation in which its employees could unknowingly put themselves in this position. We apologize to them, to the candidates, and to the people of Oakland.”

Company officials said it doesn’t sell products to the city of Oakland and has no contracts with the city.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has proposed a $100,000 fine to be approved at its July 21 meeting. The Oakland Public Ethics Commission already imposed a separate $14,400 fine on AB&I at its July 5 meeting, according to the state committee.

The fines conclude an investigation opened in 2015 into suspicious patterns by the company employees. The 17 officers, employees and their spouses made 37 donations to the 2012 and 2014 campaigns.

Oakland Public Ethics Commission deputy director Milad Daliju said in a statement:

“AB&I Foundry circumvented the local contribution limit by laundering political contributions, making this case one of the most serious violations of Oakland’s campaign laws.”

AB&I Foundry has operated in Oakland since 1906, when it produced decorative light poles as well as iron and brass statuary. It was acquired by McWane in 2006 and employs 183 people at its location on San Leandro Street in Oakland.

The six candidates who received the donations were not a focus of the investigation, according to the state commission.