Last Friday the Justice Department announced an agreement with a Texas firm named Dannenbaum Engineering (DEC) that had made $323,000 in illegal campaign contributions between 2015 and 2017. “The object of the scheme was for DEC, its former CEO James Dannenbaum, and a former employee to gain access to and potentially influence various candidates for federal office,” said the announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas. The money went to about two dozen federal political campaigns, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Separately Dannembaum has pled not guilty to making illegal contributions of $22,500 to three Texas politicians, but he’s expected to cut a deal on that charge soon. That money apparently went to to Senator John Cornyn and Representative Kevin Brady, both Republicans, and Democratic House member Filemon Vela, the Chronicle reported. The company and Dannenbaum evaded campaign finance law limits by funneling the illegal contributions “in the name of company employees and used corporate money to reimburse the contributions.” (The recipients didn’t know the donations were illegal.)
It’s not clear exactly what the firm was looking for with the political access it was buying but it’s curious that in 2017, when some of the illegal contributions were given and the scheme began to unravel after a raid on the company’s offices and Dannenbaum’s home, the firm was desperately trying to get in on the billions of dollars in government contracts to build Trump’s border wall. In a story from August of that year, the Austin-American Statesman said that a “recently revealed map of Trump administration plans for new border wall segments in Hidalgo County” was virtually identical to a $380,000 proposal drafted by Dannenbaum and endorsed by county officials.
Meanwhile, CEO Dannenbaum was making hefty donations in 2017 in his name to then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s PACs ($45,000), then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s PAC ($25,000) and more than $100,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
It’s hard to imagine that Dannenbaum Engineering didn’t have contracts for the border wall in mind when making it’s political campaign contributions, legal or otherwise. (Though I should note here that Congressman Vela has been an outspoken critic of the wall.)
Dannenbaum Engineering has entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement and promised to pay a $1.6 million fine. It doesn’t look like anyone’s going to prison, so write those campaign contributions off as a cost of doing business.
Meanwhile, the company continues to make political contributions with McCarthy, one of the wall’s leading advocates, receiving $8,300 during this election cycle, far more than anyone else.