Family tied to company with history of hiring unlawful 'aliens' among Kelly Loeffler donors

The company had to pay a record $95 million settlement levied by ICE in 2017.

December 24, 2020, 10:24 PM

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has maintained a strong anti-illegal immigration stance during her short tenure in office, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for her Georgia Senate runoff campaign from donors linked to a family owned company that was forced to pay out more than $95 million in fines for unlawful immigration practices and alleged hiring discrimination, disclosure records show.

Between late November and early December, Loeffler's campaign received more than $28,000 in contributions from at least 11 members of the Asplundh family, according to new campaign finance reports filed to the Federal Election Commission. The Asplundh family owns and operates the large, privately held Asplundh Tree Expert Company, which has done work for the U.S. Department of Energy.

In 2017, the Pennsylvania-based tree-trimming and vegetation management company had to pay the largest civil settlement ever levied by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a yearslong investigation resulted in the company pleading guilty to "unlawfully employing aliens." Additionally, in January 2019, Asplundh agreed to pay $55,000 in back wages to settle hiring discrimination allegations stemming from one of its facilities in Georgia.

None of the donations to Loeffler from the family members properly listed their association with the company as required by the FEC, and instead, the Loeffler campaign wrote under the employer and occupation sections: "INFORMATION REQUESTED PER BEST EFFORTS."

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., speaks during a campaign rally outside Adventure Outdoors gun store Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Smyrna, Ga.
John Bazemore/AP

Loeffler is competing against Democrat Raphael Warnock in one of Georgia's dual Senate runoff elections taking place on Jan. 5.

While it's not uncommon for campaigns to fail to obtain their donors' employers or occupation, all of the Asplundh family members that donated to Loeffler have previously disclosed their employers and occupation for their donations to other campaigns and groups. At least three of those family members -- including Christopher Asplundh Jr. -- are current or former executives of the company, while several others were shareholders of the company, according to other disclosure reports.

Asplundh Tree Expert Company did not immediately respond to ABC News' emailed request for comment. Christopher Asplundh Jr., Gregg Asplundh and Brent Asplundh were also contacted via email, and had not responded at the time of publishing. All three men are named on the company's website as having top positions as of 2017.

At the time the fine was announced, Asplundh said in a statement that company officials "accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred."

ABC News sent a detailed email to two staffers on Loeffler's campaign that outlined the company's past settlement over its unlawful immigration practices and back pay for alleged discrimination. In addition to asking for a general comment on the donations and the company's past, ABC News also asked if the campaign knew that members of the Asplundh family had donated and intentionally excluded their occupations and employers; if the campaign -- given the senator's stance on immigration and the company's infraction in Georgia -- wanted their support and their donations; and if the campaign did not want their support or donation, if they would refund them.

In response, Loeffler's deputy campaign manager, Stephen Lawson, replied, "[W]e're marking your email as spam. Please don't ever email us again."

In a follow-up email a minute later, Loeffler's press secretary, Caitlin O'Dea, wrote, "And Merry Christmas!"

According to a news release from ICE, and citing court documents, the six-year investigation into the company's immigration practices culminated in September 2017, and found that "the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind" to a "scheme" where lower-level management hired and rehired workers whom they knew were using fraudulent identification documents.

The acting director of ICE at the time, Thomas Homan, said the "judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable."

Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks at a Defend The Majority campaign event attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on December 17, 2020 in Columbus, Ga.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images, File

While immigration has not been one of the most talked-about issues during her Senate campaign, Loeffler has made her conservative stance on immigration clear.

On her Senate website, she states, "Tolerating illegal immigration serves only to undermine the law and threatens our national security."

She also introduced a bill with Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., in August that would allow judges to hold undocumented immigrants in contempt if they fail to show up to their immigration hearings and give judges the ability to issue warrants for their arrests.

"I will always put American citizens first & hold illegal immigrants accountable," Loeffler tweeted along with an article about the bill.

The January 2019 evaluation from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs "found alleged systemic hiring discrimination violations" in the Asplundh Tree Expert Company's Macon facility. According to a press release from the Labor Department, starting in 2015, Asplundh "discriminated against 124 African American applicants in the hiring and selection process for ground person, tree trimmer, and equipment operation positions."

Records indicate that this is the first time the Asplundh family has donated to Loeffler's federal campaign. But over the years, the Asplundh family and Asplundh Tree Expert have been active political donors to various Republican campaigns and groups. In 2016, the company gave $50,000 to Future54, one of the major super PACs that supported President Donald Trump's first presidential bid. In September 2020, the company's political action committee gave $15,000 to the Republican National Committee.

Loeffler and Warnock's race has gained national attention because it, along with Georgia's other Senate runoff, will decide control of Congress' upper chamber. The senator's Democratic challenger has vastly outraised the incumbent, according to the latest campaign finance filings.

From mid-October through mid-December, Warnock's campaign raised $104 million and entered the final three weeks of the runoff with $23 million, while Loeffler's campaign raised $66 million during that period and entered the final three weeks of the runoff with $21 million in the bank. In previous months, Loeffler, fueled by nearly $24 million of her own contribution to the campaign, was outraising Warnock.