Did Trump Foundation Make Illegal Donation to Florida Attorney General?
A Washington, D.C., advocacy group has asked the IRS to investigate whether The Donald J. Trump Foundation Inc. violated nonprofit regulations by contributing to a political organization associated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Now, Donald Trump aides are saying the contribution was a mistake.
In 2013, Bondi was considering filing fraud charges against Trump University. The Trump Foundation sent a $25,000 contribution Sept. 17, 2013 to And Justice for All, a political organization associated with Bondi's re-election campaign, according to a letter Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), wrote to the IRS last week.
That donation came three days after the Florida attorney general's office publicly acknowledged Bondi was reviewing allegations in the lawsuit New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed against Trump and Trump University, seeking $40 million in restitution for complainants, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Florida never joined the lawsuit, but recent scrutiny has resulted in Bondi's spokesman denying Bondi even made the decision to not file charges.
“The determination was rightfully made that that complaint would be addressed in the ongoing lawsuit in New York,” said Whitney Ray, spokesman for the Florida attorney general’s office.
The New York lawsuit is moving forward as New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled against Trump's claim to dismiss the case earlier this month, according to The New York Times.
However, the main issue is private foundations are prohibited from making contributions to political organizations or having any other kind of engagement in political activity. CREW also pointed out that the foundation failed to report the contribution on its tax return. It asked the federal agency to investigate whether it had violated its status as a tax-exempt private foundation by making the contribution and whether it had violated federal law by failing to report a contribution.
“The rules are clear: A tax-exempt charitable foundation cannot support a political group,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “The apparent failure to tell the IRS about this political activity makes matters worse and is something we’ve seen too many organizations doing lately.”
The nonprofit violations could result in revoking the foundation's nonprofit status and imposing applicable taxes, while the tax violations could result in civil penalties as well as a felony charge, prison time and a fine for the person who filed the return if that person knew the error existed, Bookbinder said.
“The IRS needs to look into this,” Bookbinder said in a statement. “It is a serious problem if charitable foundations are used to influence politics.”
Trump's campaign spokeswoman and foundation treasurer said the campaign was unaware of the mistakes until March 21 when CREW filed the complaint, according to The Washington Post.
“All these years, we had no idea anything happened,” said Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of The Trump Organization and the longtime treasurer of The Trump Foundation told, The Washington Post.
Weisselberg claimed a clerk at The Trump Organization received a request for payment from And Justice For All, but made a mistake when determining whether the funds should come from Trump or his foundation, he told the newspaper. That clerk found a Utah nonprofit with the same name. Still, the funds went to the Florida political group instead of the Utah nonprofit that helps poor people and those who have disabilities navigate the legal system. Then, when the accounting firm was compiling the foundation's 2013 donations, it listed the donation going to Justice for All, a nonprofit based in Wichita, Kan., that trains anti-abortion activists. Both nonprofits denied ever receiving the funds, according to The Washington Post.
“From what I’m told, they had a typographical mistake on the return. ... Somehow, someone who typed up the return for that year put 'Justice for All,'” Weisselberg said.
“It appears they gave an illegal political donation, told the IRS they didn’t give a political donation, claimed it was made to a similarly named permissible group instead—and now they’re saying it’s an error?” Jordan Libowitz, CREW's spokeswoman, told The Washington Post.
Trump did not respond to the Tampa Bay Times' questions regarding why he contributed.
"Pam Bondi is a fabulous representative of the people—Florida is lucky to have her. … The case in New York is pure politics brought by an incompetent attorney general, a political hack," he told the newspaper about a month after the donation occurred.
Nancy Watkins, And Justice for All's treasurer, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013 that Bondi, who recently endorsed Trump for president, and her campaign had no regrets.
"Based on the information at hand, we are comfortable with the propriety of the contribution from the Trump Foundation," she said to the Tampa Bay Times.
Amanda L. Cole is the editor-in-chief of NonProfit PRO. She was formerly editor-in-chief of special projects for NonProfit PRO's sister publication, Promo Marketing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.