A PPE CEO and a senator walk into a bar. The president profits.

The CEO of a new PPE-supplier made a hefty donation to the Trump campaign. A month later he sampled bourbons at the Trump Hotel with Sen. Paul, chair of a panel with FEMA oversight.

Just months after founding a company that imports and distributes personal protective equipment, its CEO and his wife contributed more than $11,000 to President Donald J. Trump’s re-election efforts. Records show the donations were the couple’s first federal campaign contributions in more than a decade and their largest ever—by tenfold—to any one candidate.

Four weeks later, the maskless couple was smiling in the Trump Hotel D.C.’s glitzy tasting salon, sipping fine bourbons alongside the chair of a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the government’s emergency spending.

“This seems like one in a kind of a pattern of instances where you don’t necessarily see outright wrongdoing, but it sure looks like they’re trying to influence the administration through buying access,” said Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Those in the room where it happened declined to comment on the record or didn’t respond to 1100 Pennsylvania’s requests for details about their conversation during the tasting, any additional campaign contributions that were made, and who chose and paid the president’s hotel.

Regardless though, both the Trump campaign and hotel benefited financially from a business-owner who enjoyed special access to a senator with oversight over part of the company’s market.

During the 2020 Republican National Convention last week, Californians Richard and Stacey Kofoed enjoyed a bourbon tasting with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Trump Hotel D.C.’s ritzy Experience Salon, according to Stacy’s Instagram posts. Their four-pour flight included the much-coveted George T. Stagg and Old Rip Van Winkle; when served separately at the president’s hotel, a 1-ounce pour of the latter costs $100.

Paul’s keeping up with the Kofoeds came just weeks after the couple had donated $11,200 to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Spread across four $2,800 contributions—the maximum election law allows—all made on July 20, they marked the Kofoeds’ first donations to a federal campaign or committee in more than a decade.

The Kofoeds’ newfound political largesse, in turn, occurred three months after Richard had launched a company in the suddenly lucrative field of importing and distributing sanitation and personal protective equipment. (Previously, Richard’s career centered on real estate and raising investments, while Stacey’s a stay-at-home mom per their LinkedIn profiles. Their prior contributions to federal political campaigns totaled just $1,025.) As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding market for preventive measures in the United States was taking off, this March Richard organized SNS Global USA, LLC in the corporate tax haven of Delaware according to a subsequent filing the firm made with California’s Secretary of State’s office. Per SNS Global USA’s website, the company is “currently sourcing all high demand sanitation and PPE items” and also offers “distribution services.”

Paul, the Kofoed’s bourbon-sipping companion, chairs the Senate Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee. It has jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And soon after the pandemic exploded in the United States, Paul had staked out a claim as an ally of the PPE industry.

According to his April op-ed in The Hill, Paul supported both “a strong, fast-moving federal response to the novel coronavirus” and limiting mask manufacturers’ liabilities. Paul also wrote in the piece that he was working on legislation to abolish the Presidential Election Campaign Fund “and use its over $360 million balance to provide even more tests, masks and other personal protective equipment.”

That’s money and legal protection that could reach firms like Richard Kofoed’s. (Introduced in March, the Eliminating Leftover Expenses for Campaigns from Taxpayers Act of 2020, which Paul co-sponsored and would achieve his goal, has not advanced out of committee.)

“That people want favor from politicians and max out to their campaigns is pretty normal,” said CREW’s Jordan Libowitz. But attending an event at the president’s private business with an influential senator?

“That’s much less normal and is the kind of problematic type of thing we’ve seen over and over again with this presidency,” Libowitz said,

Reached by phone and later emailed a list of 1100 Pennsylvania’s questions, Richard Kofoed declined to comment on the record about what was discussed during the tasting, what his interest was in meeting with Paul, who paid the Trump Hotel D.C., and if attending the tasting involved making any political contributions. Stacy Kofoed did not reply to emails sent to two addresses she’s shared publicly. (Any donations the Kofoeds might have made to Paul’s campaign or any other political committees during their recent D.C. trip should be public by mid-October.)

Paul’s Senate office has not replied to a voice message or email about what the Senator and the Kofoeds discussed and why the Trump Hotel D.C. was selected to host the bourbon tasting. But when asked in 2018 about the Paul campaign’s proclivity for the president’s D.C. hotel, a spokesperson for the senator said, “Donors love that location, and when you’re raising money it makes sense to hold events where the donors like to be” (reported Ben Wieder and Anita Kumar for McClatchy).

The other attendee at the tasting 1100 Pennsylvania was able to identify, Blaze TV’s Eric Boiling, has not responded to an email sent to the address on his website and Twitter profile.

Anywho. During the rest of their RNC celebration, the Kofoeds mingled at the Trump Hotel D.C. with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). They appear to have stayed at the hotel too, as Stacy posted a photo on Facebook from an upper floor that’s only accessible with a room key. (As 1100 Pennsylvania reported previously, the Trump Hotel D.C.’s room rates during the convention were especially high.) And the new political donors took in Trump’s acceptance speech from the White House lawn.

As for Paul, during the RNC he attended at least one more tasting at the Trump Hotel D.C. And in addition to a little bourbon, a participant’s Instagram comment implies the Senator was served shop talk by an oil and energy lobbyist.


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Reference section

Links to rundowns of developments in the House’s investigations and lawsuits, reference sheets for some of 1100 Pennsylvania’s previous reporting, and articles that provide the background on why all of this matters. The date published or last updated is in parentheses.

Trackers

Notable hotel customers

Summaries

Upcoming key dates

  • Sept. 23, 2019—House Judiciary Committee hearing “Presidential corruption: Emoluments and profiting off the presidency” (postponed, not yet rescheduled)

  • Aug. 21, 2020—In House Ways and Means’ lawsuit against the Treasury Department seeking Trump’s tax returns, deadline for both sides to file briefings about how an appellate court ruling in a separate case that Congress has standing to enforce subpoenas of White House officials impacts this suit.

  • Sept. 1, 2020—In Trump v. Vance Jr., in which the Manhattan district attorney has subpoenaed the president’s tax records, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Trump’s motion for a stay pending an appeal of an earlier decision that had rejected his case and required him to comply with the request.

  • Sept. 14, 2020—Discovery ends in a one-time Trump appointee’s lawsuit against the Trump Hotel D.C., alleging glass from a sabered bottle of champagne left a gash in her chin.

  • Sept. 20, 2020—Scheduling conference before D.C. Superior Court in D.C. attorney general’s lawsuit alleging improperly spent nonprofit funds by the Trump Hotel D.C. and Trump’s inaugural committee.

  • Oct. 15, 2020—Deadline for State Department to start turning over documents related to its spending at Trump properties in response to a lawsuit filed by The Washington Post.


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