Phantom Fireworks, an Ohio-based company, is facing scrutiny from so-called “non-partisan watchdog” groups after the company donated $750,000 worth of fireworks to President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America.”
The company’s CEO, Bruce Zoldan, was invited to an Oval Office meeting in May to discuss the impact of tariffs with fellow business leaders. Zoldan and his colleagues have been clear that a 25 percent import tax on Chinese goods would be “devastating” for the fireworks industry.
“It would be pretty devastating,” Phantom Fireworks Vice President Bill Weimer recently told ABC News. “The problem is there’s no alternative source for us to get the fireworks. We have to stay with China.”
So some were turning their heads when Trump announced on July 2 that Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci were donating supplies for the Independence Day celebration.
“Thanks to Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci for their generosity in donating the biggest fireworks show Washington D.C. has ever seen. CEOs Bruce Zoldan and Phil Grucci are helping to make this the greatest 4th of July celebration in our nation’s history,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Thanks to “Phantom Fireworks” and “Fireworks by Grucci" for their generosity in donating the biggest fireworks show Washington D.C. has ever seen. CEO's Bruce Zoldan and Phil Grucci are helping to make this the greatest 4th of July celebration in our Nations history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2019
In response, ABC News ran an article with a headline of: “July 4th fireworks donor lobbied President Trump on tariffs and won a reprieve.”
“This is another example of how private companies attempt to use their money to influence the government by stroking the president’s ego,” Jordan Libowitz of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics told the outlet.
Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, agreed that the donation “raises ethical concerns.”
“The fireworks companies have reportedly lobbied against tariffs, and they could be using the Trump administration’s celebration to better their business opportunities. We have witnessed a blurring of the line between government and business with this administration and things don’t seem to be improving,” he added.
The Center for Responsive Politics’ Sheila Krumholz said that “such large, in-kind donations to an event touted by President Trump could be used to help curry favor with him and the administration.”
“His tweets confirm that they are greatly appreciated and, because they’re not going directly to his campaign or another political committee, they can bypass contribution limits,” she continued.
ABC News implies in its article that Trump backed off an increase in tariffs because of the fireworks donation, writing, “The same day the donation was announced, the company – Phantom Fireworks – got what it wanted.”
But Trump actually announced that he wouldn’t be increasing tariffs on China in a June 29 tweet after meeting with President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
“I had a great meeting with President Xi of China yesterday, far better than expected. I agreed not to increase the already existing tariffs that we charge China while we continue to negotiate. China has agreed that, during the negotiation, they will begin purchasing large amounts of agricultural product from our great farmers,” Trump said.
I had a great meeting with President Xi of China yesterday, far better than expected. I agreed not to increase the already existing Tariffs that we charge China while we continue to negotiate. China has agreed that, during the negotiation, they will begin purchasing large…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2019
President Trump has consistently discussed the China trade imbalance for more than 30 years prior to running for office. One of the cornerstones of his campaign was a promise to confront the many trade deficits between the U.S. and its partners across the globe, and often called out China by name. In February, it was reported that the trade in goods deficit with China could exceed $410 billion for 2018, meaning Trump’s initial tariffs didn’t make a dent.
“China cheats. All of those who get worked up over negligible increases in U.S. tariffs on Chinese made goods, please remember this basic fact – China cheats,” Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, wrote in a recent op-ed. “China manipulates their currency by artificially pegging it well below the dollar, and devaluing it further to offset tariff impacts, because they desperately want, no need, to maintain their U.S. market share to keep their economy running. China also steals U.S. company’s intellectual property and then sells that innovation around the world for pennies on the dollar.”
“To politicize something like this and our involvement is a disappointment to me,” Fireworks by Grucci CEO Phil Grucci said in response. “This performance is different. It’s bigger and wider and better than anything before. It’s something we can all be proud of.”
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