Sunday, May 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Trump check fails ethics test

When an out-of-state celebrity whose business interests are under scrutiny by the Florida attorney general's office has his foundation send a $25,000 check to help the attorney general get re-elected, the optics are bad. Maybe the money from Donald Trump's foundation to a political committee helping Attorney General Pam Bondi's re-election had no influence on Bondi's decision on whether to join a consumer protection lawsuit against a Trump-named enterprise. But it represents a potential conflict and the donation should be returned.

Just three days after a spokeswoman for the office said Bondi was reviewing a lawsuit filed against Trump-related enterprises by the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a $25,000 contribution by the Donald J. Trump Foundation was received by And Justice for All, an electioneering communications organization supporting Bondi's re-election. Schneiderman's lawsuit alleges that "Trump University" and its affiliates are "sham for-profit colleges." It argues that the Trump-named, get-rich-quick seminars are consumer ripoffs. The lawsuit seeks $40 million in restitution for victims nationwide.

With the contribution's suspicious timing made public, Bondi's office is making assurances that it was not planning to join Schneiderman's suit all along. It claims that the office has received only one complaint against Trump University and that was more than two years ago. The 22 other Florida victims had their complaints closed by the prior administration and were against "Trump Institute," a different entity that has been shuttered for years.

It appears that only Charles Jacobson, the lone Florida complainant who alleged he spent $26,000 to attend a worthless three-day seminar with Trump University in West Palm Beach, can obtain relief through the New York suit.

It should be obvious why surrogates for the attorney general should not be banking major political contributions from individuals who may come under investigation. This is the second fundraising misstep tied to Bondi's re-election campaign. She had to apologize last month after her campaign successfully sought a delay of a state execution so she could hold a Tampa fundraiser that ended up bringing in $140,000.

Now Bondi needs to tell friends at the political committee to return the Trump money and scrutinize big checks that arrive out of nowhere. As the state's chief law enforcement officer, Bondi should remain free of any hint of influence by campaign contributors. The Trump check fails that test.

This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging Trump University and its affiliates are "sham for-profit colleges'' and cited complaints nationwide. The lawsuit does not specifically mention Florida. An editorial published Monday was incorrect on that point.

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