Trump says donation to Pam Bondi came with no strings

Donald Trump addresses a crowd from the Mahoning County Republican Party tent at the Canfield fair just outside Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday. Trump and Hillary Clinton planned a blitz of activity on Labor Day, traditionally the start of a two-month sprint to Election Day. [New York Times]
Donald Trump addresses a crowd from the Mahoning County Republican Party tent at the Canfield fair just outside Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday. Trump and Hillary Clinton planned a blitz of activity on Labor Day, traditionally the start of a two-month sprint to Election Day. [New York Times]
Published Sept. 6, 2016

Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution in 2013 to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University.

The donation, made by the Donald J. Trump Foundation, violated federal rules that prohibit charities from donating to political candidates. Trump and his team also failed to disclose the gift to the Internal Revenue Service, instead reporting that the donation was given to an unrelated group with a similar name — effectively obscuring the contribution.

"I never spoke to her, first of all. She's a fine person, beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She's a fine person. Never spoken to her about it, never," Trump said Monday while campaigning in Ohio. "Many of the attorney generals turned that case down because I'll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her."

Marc Reichelderfer — who worked as a consultant on Bondi's reelection effort – told the Associated Press in June that Bondi spoke with Trump and solicited the donation herself. Reichelderfer said that Bondi had not been aware of the complaints against Trump University when she asked for the contribution.

It was unclear on Monday whether Trump meant that he had never discussed the donation with Bondi — effectively contradicting Reichelderfer — or if he had simply never mentioned the Trump University case.

The Trump campaign declined to comment for this story.

Trump University is at the center of several lawsuits by former customers who have accused the business of making misleading promises and engaging in predatory marketing tactics.

Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year after reports surfaced about the gift and disclosure error. Representatives for the Trump Organization said that Trump reimbursed the foundation the full $25,000 from his personal account after watchdog groups and news organizations began asking questions.

Trump's latest assertion that he had not spoken to Bondi about Trump University revived questions about why the New York real estate developer would have donated to the Florida attorney general.

Asked on Monday what he was "hoping to get out of that donation," Trump responded: "I've just known Pam Bondi for years. I have a lot of respect for her. Never spoke to her about that at all. And just have a lot of respect for her as a person. And she has done an amazing job as the attorney general of Florida. She is very popular."

Trump has bragged about making political donations to politicians to curry favor with them and benefit his businesses, regularly using such statements to undermine his critics in both parties.

Even before the foundation's failure to disclose the contribution to the IRS surfaced this year, Bondi had faced intense scrutiny in the Florida media for accepting the donation. The Washington Post reported on the improper contribution in March and later reported on the financial penalty Trump paid.

The timeline of Bondi's solicitation has raised suspicion among campaign finance watchdogs, who have characterized the contribution as a political bribe meant to influence Bondi's decision.

Bondi's advisers have acknowledged that she asked Trump for the donation but have also said she did not know about the complaints against Trump University at the time. They said several weeks then passed before her office announced that she was considering joining New York state in investigating complaints against the for-profit education business.

Days after that announcement, the pro-Bondi organization, And Justice for All, received the $25,000 donation from the Trump Foundation.

What followed, a Trump Organization representative told the Post in March, were a series of mistakes that led to the IRS filing oversight. A clerk at Trump's headquarters in charge of processing the donation misidentified the group, confusing it for one with a similar name. That led the clerk to process the payment from the Foundation instead of Trump's personal account. When the Trump Foundation filed its annual report to the IRS, it did not list a gift to Bondi's group — and told the IRS it had made no political gifts that year.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group, filed a complaint with the IRS this year, noting the legal limitations on charities from making political donations. The improper donation was discovered by the Post in the foundation's tax filings from that year — listed as a nonpolitical donation to a charity in Kansas, which had not, in fact, received any money from the foundation.

Officials at the Trump business said in a recent interview with the Post that it had taken all necessary steps to correct the errors.

Though Trump has reportedly reimbursed the foundation directly, the watchdog group insists that IRS rules stipulate that the foundation must attempt to recuperate the donation from And Justice for All. The treasurer of And Justice for All told the Post in a recent interview that the group had already attempted to return the money but that the Trump Foundation had declined the refund.