David Fartenhold, your Pulitzer awaits
by Declan Murphy
Staff Investigative Reporter
This past week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ordered Donald Trump’s charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, to cease activities in New York.
Schneiderman pointed to fundraising activities that the Foundation conducted in New York as the basis of the shutdown. According to the Attorney General’s office, and corroborated by a Washington Post article, the Trump Foundation did not have the proper authorization to raise funds in New York; it had failed to properly register as a charitable organization.
While this order to cease is based on a particular incident, the Trump Foundation is surrounded by similar and, in some cases, more severe scandals. These accusations concern not only the Trump Foundation’s failure to register properly as a charitable organization in New York and elsewhere, but also alleged misuse of funds. The financial records from the Trump Foundation indicate that Donald Trump has used foundation funding to buy items for himself, including a massive portrait of his own face.
Most notably there is the allegation of bribery by the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Bondi had been making motions to investigate Trump University on the basis of fraud for some of its courses. (Trump University, a for-profit university, has been characterized by some as a scam—charging exorbitant fees for courses that many deemed ultimately worthless.) However, weeks later, the Trump Foundation made a $25,000 donation to Bondi’s re-election campaign. Bondi ceased to pursue any charges against Trump University. The causal link between those two actions has been difficult to establish, and may or may not constitute bribery. However, the use of the Foundation’s funds for a political campaign, accompanied by the Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute, certainly paints a nefarious picture.
Even if the other charges are false, there is reason to believe that the Trump Foundation was operating illegally in New York. The Washington Post report verifies that. Whether through negligence or malice, the Trump Foundation continued to fundraise even when it did not have the legal authority to do so.
This is not expressly a political move on the part of A.G. Schneiderman, but during a highly politically charged election year, it has political consequences. For one, it adds to the air of illegitimacy that surrounds the Trump Foundation. The Foundation itself is more of a liability than a boon to Trump at this point. Little has been made of its charitable efforts, and much has been made over its scandals, perceived or otherwise. It also demonstrates an unwillingness by the state of New York to afford Mr. Trump slack, even for a native son. Further, it opens the door to further investigation of the Trump Foundation, and even possible class action suits by several states. In other words: it’s not looking good for the foundation.
There is also the matter of Trump’s expressed desire to entrust his assets to his children, instead of a blind trust (as is customary). The Trump Foundation would be a part of that. This immediately jeopardizes the integrity of any hypothetical Trump White House, and while not entirely illegal, would cast into doubt the ethics of any policy decision. At the risk of editorializing, however, a Trump Presidency would be its own sort of nightmare.
Of course, the Trump Foundation has received a lot of press attention and scandal, but lest we forget the Clinton Foundation is equally not trusted. Many accuse the Clinton Foundation of being a way for the Clintons to profit off of their political clout, through paid appearances and otherwise. And, likewise, the Clinton Foundation is in the hands of a relative—Chelsea Clinton.
Let’s put it this way: there is enough to be suspicious of either foundation. New York, however, has been able to point to specific violations by the Trump Foundation. The Clinton Foundation remains untouched. We’ll see if that holds true, but for now, it’s important to be vigilant and critical of pseudo-political nonprofits of all stars and stripes.