The Donald J. Trump Foundation is under investigation by the New York State Office of the Attorney General for, among other things, a 2013 political donation to a Florida group with suspected ties to the attorney general there.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the matter.
And, the Washington Post is reporting that little of the money given by the foundation was actually money from Trump but from donors to the foundation which was then awarded.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in a letter to the foundation dated June 9, reviewed prohibitions placed on 501(c)(3) organizations from donating to political candidates or committees. The letter then referenced public campaign finance records from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections, disclosing a $25,000 donation the foundation made to a group called And Justice For All on Sept. 7, 2013.
The letter further requested information including other political contributions made since Jan. 1, 2013 and what was done to return the contribution. Multiple media outlets have reported that And Justice For All supported Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s 2013 campaign. Bondi, at the time, was weighing whether to pursue an investigation into Trump University. A formal investigation was never opened.
Calls to the foundation and an email to Trumps’ presidential campaign were not returned.
In response to Schneiderman’s initial inquiry, Allen Weisselberg, treasurer of the foundation, explained in a letter dated June 28 that the contribution was “due to a case of mistaken identity involving organizations with the same name.” The foundation first learned of the error through media reports in March 2016, the letter reads, and filed an IRS Form 4720 and reimbursed the foundation $25,000. The letter stated that the foundation has had no similar instances since Jan. 1, 2013 and that an excise tax was paid for the error.
The law firm Morgan Lewis, in response to a July 15 request, submitted on July 28, among other things, copies of the payment to And Justice For All, the reimbursement payment to the foundation, the Form 4720, instructions and guidelines regarding tax rules provided to foundation officers, directors and staff on May 11, 2016 and a record of payment of the $2,500 excise tax.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s Charity Bureau confirmed the investigation, but declined to go into detail. Each investigation is different, according to the spokesperson, and could involve the request of certain documents and interviews.
Asked whether the investigation is likely to be completed prior to the November election, the spokesperson said that a time frame could not be placed on it. The investigation is “not just one transaction, it’s a broader concern,” according to the spokesperson. Multiple media outlets have reported that foundation expenditures might have extended into personal purchases.
Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, said that he heard about the investigation along with the public – through recent news reports. He described refraining from making political contributions as a basic fundamental of nonprofit management. “That’s rule number one,” he said. “You can’t do that. You don’t get involved in partisan politics.” Given the nature of the violation he added that he found the IRS excise tax to be an “extremely nominal and not serious” penalty.
Sauer said that attorney general investigations can last months or even more than a year depending on the extent of the investigation and whether auditors are involved. Generally, those being investigated receive minimal feedback during the process – making it hard to understand what is being examined.
The state nonprofit leader said that he has had no dealings with the foundation and is unfamiliar with its operations, but said that he is pleased that the investigation is taking place as investigations are less common than he or members might like. “It doesn’t happen enough in a lot of cases,” Sauer said of investigations. “Folks will always say that there are more rules and not enough enforcement. In a lot of cases, we’d say that the law needs to be more enforced.”
Reports of the investigation come at the same time as the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Inc. (CHAI), associated with the Clinton Foundation, announced plans to be implemented should Secretary Hillary Clinton defeat Trump in the November election.
The plans include the replacement of five of CHAI’s board members, including former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton. The remainder of the board will appoint five new and independent members. Bylaws will be amended to remove the Clinton Foundation’s right to make board appointments.
An orderly succession plan for CEO Ira Magaziner and other senior management appointed by the board will be put in place, according to a release. CHAI will continue to use its current acronym, but will no longer be associated with the Clinton name.
This is not Schneiderman’s first investigation of Trump. The attorney general sued the real estate titan and his now closed Trump University, a for-profit company that was not an accredited school, alleging fraud. The case is pending.
As we celebrate our 36th year, NPT remains dedicated to supplying breaking news, in-depth reporting, and special issue coverage to help nonprofit executives run their organizations more effectively.