The CEO of a Texas construction company, who once loaned Donald Trump a private jet, only to secure a presidential pardon for his father weeks later, has declined to discuss the $20,000 donated in his name to the Canadian “Freedom Convoy”—a 19-day blockade of international trade routes causing production delays and shortened shifts for auto workers at several North American plants.
Republican donor Benjamin Pogue, owner and CEO of Pogue Construction, is among the more than 90,000 people whose names were discovered on a leaked list of donors backing the blockade, a public protest against vaccines and other health measures meant to curb the spread of covid-19.
According to recent estimates, the protests may have already taken anywhere from a $300-million to a billion-dollar-sized bite out of the auto industry in lost production and wages. Analysis by a Michigan-based consultancy on Monday estimated a direct loss of $144.9 million in wages between Feb. 7 and Feb. 15 alone. While the situation improved this week thanks to the reopening of a major crossing in Windsor, some industry experts say the small factories producing specialized parts along the major routes closed off by the protests may take weeks to rebound even after the roads are clear.
Pogue, whose McKinney, Texas-based company operates far from the border, is listed among the top ten donors to this blockade on a leaked spreadsheet connected with GiveSendGo, a Christian-themed crowdfunding site recently plagued by cybersecurity problems. After reports of an initial data breach last week, GiveSendGo’s website was thoroughly compromised Sunday by an unknown hacker, who decided to make the spreadsheet public.
Gizmodo reached out to Pogue on Monday regarding a $20,000 donation linked to his company email account. A zip code provided alongside an American Express number places Pogue in McKinney, Texas, where Pogue Construction is headquartered.
“Mr. Pogue does not have any comment concerning this issue,” a spokesperson at the crisis communications firm Prexperts said in an email Tuesday.
The Dallas Morning News reported on Pogue’s inclusion on the donor list Tuesday but said it had yet to receive a response from Pogue or his company.
Gizmodo acquired the leaked GiveSendGo data from DDoSecrets, a journalist collective that works to provide reporters with access to newsworthy leaks, which had saved a copy of the data before GiveSendGo’s site went dark Sunday night.
The Associated Press previously reported that Pogue provided President Donald Trump the use of a private jet during his reelection campaign in the fall of 2020. (The loan of the jet—believed to be a Gulfstream IV—accounted for more than $100,000 of Pogue’s total $385,000 donation to the Trump campaign, according to the AP.)
“Like more than a dozen other big Republican donors, many whose businesses are affected by Trump administration policy, he found a way to gain influence beyond simply writing a check. And, like many of them, he received some form of payback,” the AP wrote.
Pogue’s father, Paul Pogue, was convicted on a felony tax fraud charge in 2010 after failing to report more than a million dollars in income over three years, according to the McKinney Courier-Gazette. He received three years probation, a $250,000 fine, and was ordered to pay $473,000 in restitution.
White House records show Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were among those who support Pogue’s request for clemency.
According to the OpenSecrets database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, Pogue Construction employees also donated to Santorum on five occasions, in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,700. Donations to Republican candidates linked to the company exceed $300,000, including a $43,000 donation to the Republican National Committee in 2019.
Records also show Pogue Construction has received a combined $6.09 million from the federal government through the Paycheck Protection Program.
On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, assuming powers that—among other things—would allow authorities increased powers to dispel public assembles and restrict travel, as well as force crowdfunding sites and payment providers to share transactions related to the convoy’s funding.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Ottawa convoy spokesperson Tamara Lich said the participants will not be swayed. “We will hold the line. There are no threats that will frighten us,” she said. That remains to be seen, however, as the paper also reported that Canadian police have broken up a similar protest blocking a key border crossing between Montana and Alberta.
Analysis of the leaked GiveSendGo donation files by Gizmodo on Monday found that, like Pogue, a majority of the Freedom Convoy’s financial supporters reside in the United States.
Efforts to fully authenticate the donor list have been hampered by GiveSendGo’s refusal to answer questions about the apparent hack of its website. Nevertheless, reporters in Newfoundland and Labrador managed to verify a donation attributed to a former Canadian politician Monday night.
Update 7:40pm: Updated with recent figures on the impact to the North American auto industry.