Trump campaign: 'Coincidences and errors' led to foundation's contribution to Pam Bondi

"Coincidences and errors," an aide says, led to his foundation's political contribution.
Published March 22 2016
Updated March 23 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Donald Trump's campaign spokeswoman admitted Tuesday that his charitable foundation made mistakes when it donated to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's political committee.

In 2013, the Trump Foundation gave $25,000 to And Justice for All, a committee supporting Bondi's re-election bid.

The trouble is, federal tax law bans 501(c)(3) charities like the Trump Foundation from contributing to political campaigns.

That's the subject of a complaint filed Monday with the Internal Revenue Service.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, asked for an investigation into whether the Trump Foundation should lose its tax-exempt status and whether its accountants committed perjury by not properly disclosing a political contribution on its tax forms.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Tuesday that the Trump Foundation has been in touch with the IRS to fix the problems, but she didn't know what that would entail.

The foundation didn't intend to skirt the law, she said, chalking it all up to accounting mistakes.

"It's an unfortunate series of coincidences and errors," Hicks said.

Here's how the campaign says it happened:

Bondi asked for a donation to support her re-election. The request was sent to a clerk working at the Trump Organization.

But that staffer confused the political committee for a Utah-based nonprofit with a similar name and decided to write the check from the charitable foundation.

To make matters worse, the Trump Foundation did not list the $25,000 donation as a political contribution in its tax filings that year. Instead, it noted giving to a third group, called Justice for All, an anti-abortion advocacy group in Kansas.

The Trump campaign did not respond to followup questions Tuesday asking which of his entities should have given the money to Bondi, although contributions to other Florida candidates have come from Trump personally.

Why has it taken nearly three years to catch the problem?

"It wasn't discovered until today," Hicks said Tuesday.

The contribution, however, has been highlighted by the media since Bondi endorsed Trump for president at a campaign rally in Tampa on March 14.

The donation has dredged up old questions about whether the $25,000 check was intended to prevent a state investigation into Trump University, a for-profit college sued in New York for using false promises to "scam" people out of more than $40 million.

The Attorney General's office never opened an investigation, although Bondi was not directly involved in the decision, her spokesman, Whitney Ray, said.

And Justice for All treasurer Nancy Watkins said at the time that she was "comfortable with the propriety of the contribution from the Trump Foundation," citing no concerns about the Trump University issue.

In 2013, Trump acknowledged making the contribution.

Asked specifically about the Trump Foundation donation in an email from the Times/Herald, he said at the time: "Pam Bondi is a fabulous representative of the people — Florida is lucky to have her."

Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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