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Donald Trump's History of Paying to Sway Attorneys General

Friday, June 10, 2016 By Drew Doggett, Sunlight Foundation | Report
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Donald Trump defends his past political donations as a means to further his business endeavors. He frames his contributions as good business. What better way to close such loopholes than to elect someone who knew how to exploit them best?

"I was a businessman, I give to everybody," Trump said at the first Republican debate. "When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me."

Questions About Trump University

In March of this year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the IRS against the Donald Trump Foundation, alleging it violated its tax status. The foundation, a 501(c)(3) that is barred from political activities, donated $25,000 to "And Justice for All," a 527 political organization associated with supporting Florida GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi's re-election.

In 2013, the Florida Attorney General's Office -- led by Bondi -- reportedly contemplated suing Trump University alongside New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a multi-state lawsuit over complaints by former students. Three days after the Orlando Sentinel wrote about the Floridians who felt scammed by Trump University, the Trump Foundation contributed money to And Justice for All. And just days after that, Bondi rescinded the investigation, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.

Trump University now connotes a Ponzi scheme more than an educational institution. Due to the inflated tuition, former employees labeling the school as a "scheme" or a "lie" and a lack of return on investment for the students, the university is now mired in controversy. Some former students say the system was a con and many claim the classes they enrolled in were either worthless or nonexistent. The Better Business Bureau gave Trump University a D-minus in 2010.

Take the state of Texas as an example: According to the Dallas Morning News, "267 Texans paid more than $425,000 to attend Trump University's three-day seminar, 39 purchased Trump's "Gold Elite" package of additional classes and other perks costing $35,000 each, and 150 others spent more than $826,000 on other goods and services."

The Orlando Sentinel obtained 8,491 documents from Bondi's office which detailed her staff urging those affected by Trump University to hire their own attorneys if they wanted their money back -- deflecting any need for her office to take action.

"Visit an Internet search engine such as http://www.yahoo.com or http://www.google.com to search for information on any class action lawsuits you may benefit from," according to page 5,449 of Bondi's document dump. Several discrepancies were made by Bondi's staff, including the number of complaints received (her office originally said they only received one complaint) and a lack of effort to investigate the claims.

While Trump never detailed his motivations for the political donations, he called Bondi "a fabulous representative of the people" and Schneiderman, who didn't back down from the suit, "a political hack." While Schneiderman recently decried Trump University as an example of "straight-up fraud," he still received $12,500 from Trump six years ago.

Bondi now says she personally solicited the money from Trump after complaints to her office had been filed. If this is the case, then it seems plausible to view Florida's decision not to investigate Trump University as a possible quid pro quo exchange.

CREW recently issued a statement doubling down. "Attorney General Bondi's admission that she personally solicited a donation from Donald Trump directly contradicts the Trump camp's version of events. ... This reaffirms the need for an immediate and thorough investigation."

Spitzer, Cuomo, Pirro Took Trump Cash

Map of state contributionsTrump's political donations to state candidates top $800,000 in nearly 15 states. (Graphic credit: National Institute on Money in State Politics)

Bondi's not the only attorney general who's received Trump's money. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Trump collectively gave to attorneys general nine times in Florida, California and New York for a total of $134,015.

  • 1998
    • Dennis Vacco, R-New York, $27,965
  • 2002
    • Eliot Spitzer, D-New York, $11,000 Spitzer resigned one year after serving as Governor of New York in 2008
  • 2006
    • Walter Campbell Jr., D-California, $1,000
    • Edmund Brown Jr., D-California, $1,000 Brown now serves as the Governor of California
    • Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, $20,000 Cuomo now serves as the Governor of New York
    • Jeanine Pirro, R-New York, $10,000 Pirro is currently a television personality on Fox News
  • 2010
    • Kathleen Rice, D-New York, $19,050 Rice now serves as Representative to New York's 4th district
    • Eric Schneiderman, D-New York, $12,500
    • Daniel Donovan, R-New York, $5,000 Donovan now serves as Representative to New York's 11th district
  • 2014
    • Pamela Bondi, R-Florida, $500
    • Kamala Harris, D-California, $6,000
    • John Cahill, R-New York, $20,000

Current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, investigated Trump University when Abbott served as Texas attorney general. After Abbott dropped the investigation, Trump donated $35,000 to his gubernatorial campaign.

According to The Huffington Post, former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection John Owens, who worked closely with the Trump University investigation, called the probe "an extremely strong case" -- only to have the case dropped.

Abbott's successor, Ken Paxton (who remains in the spotlight for a number of other fraudulent charges), issued a cease-and-desist letter to Owens after he made copies of a 14-page internal summary detailing Trump University scamming millions of dollars from Texas students. "The decision not to sue was political," Owens later told the Dallas Morning News. The scheduled meeting between Texas officials and Trump representatives for the $5.4 million settlement never even occurred.

Larger Legal Issues

501(c)(3) charitable organizations, such as the Donald Trump Foundation, are barred from any and all political activities. In exchange, they are tax exempt from the IRS. 527 organizations, such as Bondi's And Justice for All group, are vehicles specifically for political activities.

A larger problem, aside from the illegal donations, is linking attorneys general (which are elected officials in 43 states) to lobbyists, gifts and other forms of non-quid pro quo arrangements, more or less, blatant bribes. Attorneys general are essentially the main legal advisor to the government, issuing formal opinions to state agencies, proposing legislation, instituting civil suits on behalf of the state and representing the public's interests in charitable trust and solicitations.

Whether or not the two cases of Bondi and Abbott are illegal, the dubious timing of the donations and their actions to halt their investigations give off the appearance of a quid pro quo arrangement. These officials are voted by their constituents and are responsible for representing the public. Their interests should never be questioned.

Both Bondi and Abbott have endorsed Donald Trump for president.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Drew Doggett

Drew is the communications and editorial assistant at Sunlight, where he supports media relations, social media and original reporting projects such as Political Party Time.

Born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Drew graduated from Miami of Ohio with a BA in mass communication and political science. Prior to joining the Sunlight team, Drew previously wrote and reported on cybersecurity, supported Govloop as a brand ambassador and assisted Capitol Hill reporter and frequent NPR contributor Matt Laslo.

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Donald Trump's History of Paying to Sway Attorneys General

Friday, June 10, 2016 By Drew Doggett, Sunlight Foundation | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Donald Trump defends his past political donations as a means to further his business endeavors. He frames his contributions as good business. What better way to close such loopholes than to elect someone who knew how to exploit them best?

"I was a businessman, I give to everybody," Trump said at the first Republican debate. "When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, and they are there for me."

Questions About Trump University

In March of this year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the IRS against the Donald Trump Foundation, alleging it violated its tax status. The foundation, a 501(c)(3) that is barred from political activities, donated $25,000 to "And Justice for All," a 527 political organization associated with supporting Florida GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi's re-election.

In 2013, the Florida Attorney General's Office -- led by Bondi -- reportedly contemplated suing Trump University alongside New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a multi-state lawsuit over complaints by former students. Three days after the Orlando Sentinel wrote about the Floridians who felt scammed by Trump University, the Trump Foundation contributed money to And Justice for All. And just days after that, Bondi rescinded the investigation, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.

Trump University now connotes a Ponzi scheme more than an educational institution. Due to the inflated tuition, former employees labeling the school as a "scheme" or a "lie" and a lack of return on investment for the students, the university is now mired in controversy. Some former students say the system was a con and many claim the classes they enrolled in were either worthless or nonexistent. The Better Business Bureau gave Trump University a D-minus in 2010.

Take the state of Texas as an example: According to the Dallas Morning News, "267 Texans paid more than $425,000 to attend Trump University's three-day seminar, 39 purchased Trump's "Gold Elite" package of additional classes and other perks costing $35,000 each, and 150 others spent more than $826,000 on other goods and services."

The Orlando Sentinel obtained 8,491 documents from Bondi's office which detailed her staff urging those affected by Trump University to hire their own attorneys if they wanted their money back -- deflecting any need for her office to take action.

"Visit an Internet search engine such as http://www.yahoo.com or http://www.google.com to search for information on any class action lawsuits you may benefit from," according to page 5,449 of Bondi's document dump. Several discrepancies were made by Bondi's staff, including the number of complaints received (her office originally said they only received one complaint) and a lack of effort to investigate the claims.

While Trump never detailed his motivations for the political donations, he called Bondi "a fabulous representative of the people" and Schneiderman, who didn't back down from the suit, "a political hack." While Schneiderman recently decried Trump University as an example of "straight-up fraud," he still received $12,500 from Trump six years ago.

Bondi now says she personally solicited the money from Trump after complaints to her office had been filed. If this is the case, then it seems plausible to view Florida's decision not to investigate Trump University as a possible quid pro quo exchange.

CREW recently issued a statement doubling down. "Attorney General Bondi's admission that she personally solicited a donation from Donald Trump directly contradicts the Trump camp's version of events. ... This reaffirms the need for an immediate and thorough investigation."

Spitzer, Cuomo, Pirro Took Trump Cash

Map of state contributionsTrump's political donations to state candidates top $800,000 in nearly 15 states. (Graphic credit: National Institute on Money in State Politics)

Bondi's not the only attorney general who's received Trump's money. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Trump collectively gave to attorneys general nine times in Florida, California and New York for a total of $134,015.

  • 1998
    • Dennis Vacco, R-New York, $27,965
  • 2002
    • Eliot Spitzer, D-New York, $11,000 Spitzer resigned one year after serving as Governor of New York in 2008
  • 2006
    • Walter Campbell Jr., D-California, $1,000
    • Edmund Brown Jr., D-California, $1,000 Brown now serves as the Governor of California
    • Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, $20,000 Cuomo now serves as the Governor of New York
    • Jeanine Pirro, R-New York, $10,000 Pirro is currently a television personality on Fox News
  • 2010
    • Kathleen Rice, D-New York, $19,050 Rice now serves as Representative to New York's 4th district
    • Eric Schneiderman, D-New York, $12,500
    • Daniel Donovan, R-New York, $5,000 Donovan now serves as Representative to New York's 11th district
  • 2014
    • Pamela Bondi, R-Florida, $500
    • Kamala Harris, D-California, $6,000
    • John Cahill, R-New York, $20,000

Current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, investigated Trump University when Abbott served as Texas attorney general. After Abbott dropped the investigation, Trump donated $35,000 to his gubernatorial campaign.

According to The Huffington Post, former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection John Owens, who worked closely with the Trump University investigation, called the probe "an extremely strong case" -- only to have the case dropped.

Abbott's successor, Ken Paxton (who remains in the spotlight for a number of other fraudulent charges), issued a cease-and-desist letter to Owens after he made copies of a 14-page internal summary detailing Trump University scamming millions of dollars from Texas students. "The decision not to sue was political," Owens later told the Dallas Morning News. The scheduled meeting between Texas officials and Trump representatives for the $5.4 million settlement never even occurred.

Larger Legal Issues

501(c)(3) charitable organizations, such as the Donald Trump Foundation, are barred from any and all political activities. In exchange, they are tax exempt from the IRS. 527 organizations, such as Bondi's And Justice for All group, are vehicles specifically for political activities.

A larger problem, aside from the illegal donations, is linking attorneys general (which are elected officials in 43 states) to lobbyists, gifts and other forms of non-quid pro quo arrangements, more or less, blatant bribes. Attorneys general are essentially the main legal advisor to the government, issuing formal opinions to state agencies, proposing legislation, instituting civil suits on behalf of the state and representing the public's interests in charitable trust and solicitations.

Whether or not the two cases of Bondi and Abbott are illegal, the dubious timing of the donations and their actions to halt their investigations give off the appearance of a quid pro quo arrangement. These officials are voted by their constituents and are responsible for representing the public. Their interests should never be questioned.

Both Bondi and Abbott have endorsed Donald Trump for president.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Drew Doggett

Drew is the communications and editorial assistant at Sunlight, where he supports media relations, social media and original reporting projects such as Political Party Time.

Born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Drew graduated from Miami of Ohio with a BA in mass communication and political science. Prior to joining the Sunlight team, Drew previously wrote and reported on cybersecurity, supported Govloop as a brand ambassador and assisted Capitol Hill reporter and frequent NPR contributor Matt Laslo.