Polman: Trump's pay-to-play ignored by media
How refreshing it is, after weeks and months of faux Clinton Foundation "scandals," after all the fatuous media talk about "optics" and "perceptions," to finally have a real Foundation scandal to chew on. An actual example of pay-to-play, of money given and a favor granted. And it comes to us courtesy of Donald Trump.
The Washington Post has done most of the spadework, but most of the so-called "liberal" media has inexplicably ignored it. Fortunately, Trump himself pumped some oxygen into the story when he denied any and all wrongdoing.
Three years ago, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the family's nonprofit charity, gave a $25,000 campaign contribution to a group that flacked for Florida attorney general Pam Bondi. That donation was illegal, because nonprofits are barred by the IRS from giving money to political campaigns. And at the time the illegal donation was made, Bondi was deciding whether to go to bat for all the Floridians who had been allegedly bilked by the phony Trump University. Should she join the State of New York's class action lawsuit, or not?
Trump's foundation sent the money to Bondi. A month later, Bondi decided not to prosecute Trump University. She claimed that her office had received only one complaint. That was a lie. More than 60 aggrieved Floridians had sought her help, hoping to recoup their money from the scam school.
The donation, followed by the decision not to prosecute ... what timing! By the way, you may remember Bondi's gig at the Republican convention in Cleveland. She was the one who spoke in rapt terms about championing the rule of law.
It gets worse. After The Post and a citizens watchdog group raised hell earlier this year, the Trump Foundation paid a fine to the IRS — right there, we have a proof of guilt, far beyond any of the Clinton "optics" and "perceptions" — but the Foundation still insisted that it had merely made what it called an "honest mistake." Supposedly, it had intended to send the money to a charitable group in Kansas that had roughly the same name as Bondi's political committee, but gee, somehow the money went to Bondi's committee, not to Kansas.
It gets even worse. Under IRS rules, the Trump Foundation is supposed to withdraw its illegal donation. Bondi's political group has tried to give it back; as the group's treasurer told The Post, "I wrote a check, sent it via FedEx." But what happened next? "I received a call from the Trump Foundation, saying that they had declined to accept the refund."
Which brings us to Trump's remarks. He denied that he had ever tried to buy Bondi for $25,000 in the hopes that she'd leave Trump University alone. "I never spoke to her, first of all. She's a fine person beyond reproach," Trump said. "I never even spoke to her about it at all. She's a fine person. Never spoke to her about it. Never."
Well, that was interesting. Because, just three months ago, Bondi political consultant Marc Reichelderfer told The Associated Press that Bondi and Trump had spoken — personally, one on one — about a possible Trump donation. The AP quoted Reichefelder on that, and referenced it in the opening paragraph of its June story, and neither Bondi or Trump denied it.
So was Trump lying yesterday when he said that he and Bondi "never" spoke about a donation that turned out to be illegal? An illegal donation that landed in Bondi's political account shortly before she decided to leave aggrieved Floridians high and dry — a decision that benefited Trump as well?
That's how the game works — according to Trump himself. You give money to pols, you get political favors. In the summer of 2015, he told The Wall Street Journal: "As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do."
When he was asked about that statement during a debate last winter, he replied, "You'd better believe it." And he said this, at a rally in Iowa: "When I want something, I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass."
Now let's try a little test. Reread all the aforementioned info, and replace Trump's name with Hillary Clinton's. If she had ever concocted a fake school that allegedly defrauded consumers, and if she had made an illegal political donation to an attorney general who then opted not to prosecute fraud, and if she had tried to cover it up by insisting that the money was supposed to go to Kansas, and if she had ever denied speaking with that AG despite recent statements from an AG ally that she in fact had spoken about a donation ... Well. The mainstream media would be banging on this 24/7.
You know, for the sake of "balance." And that's more disgraceful than Trump's actual scandal.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania.