Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Tracing the controversy of Trump's $25,000 donation to Pam Bondi

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi walk to meet supporters organizing voter registration before a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in August. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sep. 8, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Donald Trump gave $25,000 in 2013 to support Attorney General Pam Bondi's re-election bid.

The contribution triggered allegations then that it steered Bondi's office away from investigating Trump University.

Three years later, the contribution is back in the news. Here's a recap of where we are with the controversy.

Why is the contribution in the news right now?

Last week, Trump paid a $2,500 penalty to the Internal Revenue Service and refunded his foundation $25,000 from his personal wealth because the Sept. 17, 2013, contribution violated tax laws, the Washington Post reported.

The check came from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit barred from contributing to political causes. The check went to And Justice For All, a committee that was the fundraising arm for Bondi's re-election campaign — and undeniably political in nature.

The donation's dubious legality was obscured for years because of an accounting error at the Trump Organization, which reported to the IRS that it had given $25,000 to a Kansas anti-abortion group called Justice for All.

"It's an unfortunate series of coincidences and errors," Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Times/Herald in March.

What's so controversial about this campaign contribution?

It's the chronology.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit on Aug. 25, 2013, alleging that Trump University and its affiliates were "sham for-profit colleges" that ripped off 5,000 consumers.

A Sept. 14 Orlando Sentinel story noted that Schneiderman cited dozens of complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General's Office in 2008, two years before Bondi took office. In that story, a Bondi spokeswoman was quoted as saying Florida was reviewing the New York lawsuit.

Three days later, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, based in New York, made the $25,000 contribution.

Though there's no specific date, Bondi's office declined to pursue an investigation.

Six months later — on Friday, March 14, 2014 — Trump hosted a fundraiser for Bondi at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, which was reported at the time by other Florida media outlets.

What does Bondi say about that timing?

It's a moot point, Bondi's current spokesman Whitney Ray maintains, because Bondi herself was not a part of the decision not to investigate Trump University.

But Bondi did personally solicit the contribution, according to a report in June of this year by the Associated Press.

Hicks contends that "there was never any discussion of Trump University" during that phone call when Bondi asked for the donation.

Could politics really force an investigation to get dropped?

Yes, according to a former regulator in Texas who told the AP in June that he was pressured to drop a similar investigation into Trump University in 2010. Three years later, Trump contributed $35,000 to the then-attorney general's campaign for governor.

Who is investigating the contribution to Bondi's campaign?

A liberal watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday, calling for an investigation into the contribution.

Additionally, Bondi's solicitation of the $25,000 donation is the subject of a Florida ethics complaint filed this June by J. Whitfield Larrabee, a Massachusetts lawyer. No decision has been made.

Bondi received a June 14 letter from the Florida Commission on Ethics, notifying her of the complaint, which is confidential by law until a probable cause finding is made or the complaint is dismissed. The letter, signed by commission executive director Virlindia Doss, advised Bondi that she could waive confidentiality and make all documents in the case public.

Bondi has not waived confidentiality.

Why not?

"This is not about my strong record on transparency," said Bondi, whose office helps oversee the state's public records laws, in a statement. "These allegations are completely without merit, and the process is confidential to ensure that specious claims are not validated by the continuous spread of completely false allegations."

Did Bondi and Trump have a relationship before the $25,000 contribution?

Trump and Bondi both have said they're longtime friends.

"I've just known Pam Bondi for years," he told reporters traveling on his plane earlier this week, according to the Washington Post. "I have a lot of respect for her."

Bondi, a vocal Florida surrogate for Trump, told a Tampa rally in March that they have been "friends for years, and I know his family personally."

But when exactly did they meet?

Neither Bondi nor Trump is willing to discuss their relationship.

Bondi would not respond to Times/Herald questions.

Asked for specific information about when or how Trump first met Bondi and the nature of their relationship, Hicks wouldn't elaborate, only repeating that "they have a great relationship and have for many years."

Before she ran for attorney general, it's unclear how Bondi's life as an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County intersected with that of Trump's in Palm Beach or Manhattan.

When Bondi did run in 2010 for attorney general, there's no record that Trump or his family made any political contributions, even though they had been active donors in Florida politics for years.

The first documented contribution to Bondi from the Trumps was on Sept. 10, 2013, when daughter Ivanka gave $500 — about two weeks after Schneiderman filed his suit in New York that Bondi's office was reviewing.

Has Bondi returned Trump's money?

State records show the money was never refunded to the Trump Foundation, but that's not for lack of trying, said Nancy Watkins, treasurer of And Justice For All.

Watkins said she FedExed a refund check to the Trump Foundation as soon as she found out that the contribution violated tax laws.

"It was refunded and he declined to accept the refund because he had already taken care of the issue with the IRS," Watkins said.

Times Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. El gobernador de Florida, Ron DeSantis, hace una declaración sobre el hecho de responsabilizar a los funcionarios del gobierno en Fort Lauderdale en el Complejo de Seguridad Pública Ron Cochran el 11 de enero, luego de que nombró al ex sargento de la policía de Coral Springs. Gregory Tony reemplazará a Scott Israel como sheriff del condado de Broward. (Al Díaz / Miami Herald / TNS)
    Several Senate leaders told the Times/Herald they are prepared to accept new evidence during a daylong hearing scheduled for today. They could decide against DeSantis when they vote Wednesday.
  2. District 3 City Council candidates Orlando Acosta, left, and Ed Montanari. Scott Keeler, Chris Urso
    The St. Petersburg City Council races are supposed to be nonpartisan. Partisan politics are leaking into the campaign anyway.
  3. Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, while a federal judge heard arguments for an against the the Legislature's bill implementing Amendment 4. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    It’s unclear how state and county officials plan on complying with the judge’s order, however. The “poll tax” issued wasn’t addressed, either.
  4. The Florida Capitol. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The job entails being a part-time lobbyist, part-time expert on the Florida Sunshine Law.
  5. Florida K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva presents the state's second draft of academic standards revisions during an Oct. 17, 2017, session at Jefferson High School in Tampa. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the effort in an executive order to remove the Common Core from Florida schools. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times staff
    ‘Our third draft will look different from our second,’ the chancellor explains.
  6. Igor Fruman, hugs Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, as Lev Parnas looks on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando at the watch party for DeSantis. Fruman and Parnas were arrested last week on campaign finance violations. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    Florida’s governor has shrugged off past donor controversies. This time, there were photos. Now it’s not going away.
  7. The sun sets over a slab which once served as a foundation for a home on Mexico Beach in May. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Area leaders fear lower population numbers will lead to reduced federal funding and political representation.
  8. Senador de Florida, Rick Scott.  Foto: AP
    “The FBI has failed to give me or these families an acceptable answer, but I’m not going to allow that,” Scott said, adding that the FBI didn’t share pertinent information on shootings at Pulse, the...
  9. Courtney Wild, 30, was a victim of serial sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein beginning at the age of 14. Epstein paid Wild, and many other underage girls, to give him massages, often having them undress and perform sexual acts. Epstein also used the girls as recruiters, paying them to bring him other underage girls. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
    Courtney Wild’s relentless quest for justice has led to a bipartisan push for sweeping reforms.
  10. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference on Sept. 25, in Davie. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Naples lawyer Dudley Goodlette was threatened shortly after he made his recommendation last month.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement