June 15, 2018

Thursday, the New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s charity foundation, claiming that it illegally used money to settle disputes related to his business and gave charity donations, mostly to veterans groups, in ways that boosted his campaign.  Trump called the case “ridiculous” and politically-motivated and vowed not to settle it.  His son, Donald Trump Jr., said every penny of the foundation’s money goes to charity with zero expenses taken out, and that board members, including him and his dad, sister and brother, don’t take any salary from it. 


You can read the details at the link.  I’m not a charity law expert so I won’t get into whether these accusations have any basis or not.  I will note that most of the alleged business expenses do seem to be at least related to charity fundraisers, and those that were questioned have already been reimbursed and even had fines paid.  As for whether it’s a crime to use charitable donations to boost your political fortunes, I’d say that going after the $18 million Trump Foundation while ignoring the $2 billion election slush fund that is the Clinton Foundation is sort of like trying to swat a fly while you’re standing in a snake pit. 


There’s also a concept in election finance law that something isn’t necessary a campaign expense just because it might help your electoral chances.  For instance, giving money to charity might improve your public image, but it isn’t a direct campaign PR expense.  This case seems to blur that line.  As for the veterans groups, they apparently don’t care if the giver’s deepest, personal motivations were pure as the driven snow, they were just thrilled to get Trump’s million dollar donation.  If it had been a Clinton Foundation effort, the million would probably have gone for a week-long symposium on veterans issues at a five-star resort in Tahiti, followed by the cutting of a check for 50 bucks to veterans.


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