So, Donald Trump, who accused Hillary Clinton of using the family’s foundation for political purposes, has used his own foundation for self-gain, abusing the donors who gave to this putative charity.
Citing legal documents and interviews, the Washington Post reported that Trump used more than a quarter-million dollars from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses and – how cheesy can you get? – to buy a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself. That is to say, he diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars given by donors to benefit charity so that he could get out from under court actions without using his own money and to show the world how highly he thinks of himself.
It’s not only disgusting, but potentially illegal, given laws prohibiting nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses. Legally, it’s called self-dealing; ethically it fits the definition of hypocrisy.
It’s not the first time Trump has accused others of actions he is guilty of, but it’s one of the most blatant episodes. Only last month he jumped on possible links between Clinton and donors to the Clinton Foundation. As this page observed, it was a troubling nexus, but it was also true that many donors were denied access to Clinton, then secretary of state, and that many of them were people any secretary of state would deal with, anyway. The problem – and it is a serious one – was the potential for a conflict of interest.
The use of Trump Foundation money to benefit the candidate’s own bottom line was demonstrably unethical, and perhaps broke the law. It’s this kind of conduct that has prompted New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to open an investigation into the practices of the Trump Foundation.
Schneiderman is also investigating a $25,000 donation from the foundation to the campaign of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in violation of IRS rules.
Whatever animus may exist between Schneiderman and Trump, the investigation is not the “left-wing hit job” that Trump’s campaign claims. It’s an examination whose necessity was made plain in the Post’s report.
Nor is it the instance of “bias” that Trump ludicrously but predictably claimed after the story was published. The facts are the facts, and they are troubling. Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who represents 700 nonprofits a year and advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington, D.C., said use of the foundation’s money as described in the article was “really shocking.”
“If he’s using other people’s money – run through his foundation – to satisfy his personal obligations, then that’s about as blatant an example of self-dealing [as] I’ve seen in awhile,” he said.
Clinton is no paragon of forthrightness, but while she has disputed conclusions about her emails, the Clinton Foundation and other issues, she hasn’t protested that raising legitimately public matters is, somehow, evidence of bias. That’s Trump’s shtick. He doesn’t want the public to know about his income, his business dealings, his taxes, his health and other fundamental information that presidential candidates routinely disclose.
The revelations about the Trump Foundation may help to explain why.
Many voters are dismayed by their choices this November. Revelations about Trump’s misuse of his foundation offer additional proof why that is so.