Donald Trump insists he did nothing wrong by failing to disclose his foundation’s $25,000 donation to a political group linked to Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi. After all, he says, he paid a $2,500 fine in an effort to put the matter to rest. “A minor issue,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told NBC.
That’s disingenuous spin of the first order. It’s also illegal. The Donald J. Trump Foundation, which is organized under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, clearly violated its tax-exempt status by making the contribution — a fact brought to light in March by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. But this is more than an accounting error. There’s a whiff of scandal that demands full attention from voters who might otherwise be trying to make their post-Labor Day peace with the fact that Trump is now the Republican standard-bearer.
It seems more than coincidental that the donation from the foundation was made on Sept. 17, 2013, four days after reports emerged that Bondi’s office was mulling an investigation of fraud charges against Trump University. Bondi never pressed ahead with any probe, and endorsed Trump’s candidacy. Campaigning in Ohio on Monday, Trump said: “I’ve just known Pam Bondi for years. I have a lot of respect for her. Never spoke to her about that at all.” In June, however, Bondi’s spokesperson told the Associated Press that she personally solicited the political contribution around the time her office deliberated joining the fraud investigation. So which is it?
Trump has slammed Hillary Clinton about potential conflicts of interest involving Clinton Foundation donors when she was secretary of state. And this page has called on Clinton to shut down the foundation if she is elected. But there is no indication that the Clinton Foundation has misreported donations or made illegal political contributions.
Besides, Trump’s explanation defies belief: Presumably, a real estate tycoon running on his business acumen understands the tax code. And the Huffington Post reported that Trump held a fund-raiser in 2014 for Bondi, after she had decided not to investigate.
With less than nine weeks left until election day, it’s time to sort the signal from the noise. Questions surrounding the non-investigation of Trump University and the donation to Bondi’s campaign are damaging to her reputation as attorney general, the chief law enforcement official in Florida. She owes her constituents a more thorough explanation. And the episode may finally prove to voters that Trump, who claims to be a brash outsider, is not above a crass political payoff.