Polman: Donald Trump's slush fund
Yes, folks, it's time for another episode of "Imagine The Outcry!"
Imagine the outcry if Hillary Clinton was outed for taking more than a quarter of a million dollars in other people's money — donations to the Clinton Foundation, donations that were intended to be used for charitable purposes — and spent it instead on herself, in a breach of federal tax laws, in order to settle all kinds of lawsuits filed against her. And to buy several paintings of herself.
Well. We know what would happen. Donald Trump would cite that as fresh evidence of Clinton crookedness, Democrats would double down on what they do best (panic), the pitiable Trump trolls would drag their knuckles on their keyboards, and the cable networks would feature wall-to-wall coverage not seen on the airwaves since that Malaysian plane vanished from radar.
I'm referring, of course, to the latest revelation from David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, who has been digging deep all year into Trump's charitable work (or lack thereof), and repeatedly exposing the GOP nominee as a fraud. Fahrenthold - a cinch finalist for next year's Pulitzer - is the guy who recently outed Trump for taking money from his Donald J. Trump Foundation and funneling it to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (an illegal campaign contribution; nonprofits are barred from such giving), and shortly thereafter Bondi decided not to investigate phony Trump University's bilking of Florida consumers.
Anyway, his new article — which shows us copies of the relevant receipts — is potentially the most damaging of all (or should be, if facts still matter), because it's so easily summarized in ways that anyone can understand: Trump took other people's money in apparent violation of the law, and spent it on himself.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation is supposed to make contributions to charitable causes. Trump himself hasn't donated a penny to the foundation since 2009; whatever money it has comes from outside donors. But it's clear from the available records that Trump's favorite charitable cause is himself. In 2014 he took $10,000 from the foundation's coffers and spent it on a portrait of himself, just a few years after he took $20,000 and spent it on a different portrait of himself. And because he gets sued a lot (big surprise), he has settled a number of these lawsuits by taking money from the foundation. Basically, he has used it as his personal slush fund.
Using a non-profit charitable foundation to pay off one's personal obligations (or, in the case of the portraits, to indulge one's personal narcissism) is known in the tax laws as "self-dealing," and it's apparently against the law to do it.
Why does he presumably believe he did not break the law? Why won't he release his tax returns, as every other nominee has done these last 40 years? Does he fear that the public would discover more instances of self-dealing? And would he not condemn Hillary Clinton if she were found to have engaged in exactly the same behavior? By what right does he get to benefit from the prevailing double standard?
Perhaps we can content ourselves with Team Trump's hilarious responses to the self-dealing story. Top flack Jason Miller declared, "In typical Washington Post fashion, they've gotten their facts wrong" — without contesting, much less disproving, a single specific fact in the story. Miller also insisted that Trump is "generous" with his money, without once addressing the thrust of the story, which is that Trump hasn't been generous with his own foundation since 2009 and instead pays for lawsuits and portraits and toys (a $12,000 autographed football) with other people's money.
But the best part was when Kellyanne Conway played a shrink on CNN and suggested that Post reporter Fahrenthold "seems a little obsessed with Donald Trump these days." Fahrenthold promptly responded on Twitter. Trump, he pointed out, happens to be "a major party's nominee for president."
And of all the facts, that one is still the most horrific.
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.