Donald Trump, a Gold Medalist in Playing America’s ‘Broken System’
Better than anyone, Donald Trump made the case for why our campaign money system is rotten. Unsurprisingly, the prime example he used was himself.
“I was a businessman,” Trump explained at a Republican debate in August 2015. “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.”
Bravo. Sort of. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that Republican primary voters seemed to reward Trump for saying that he bought off politicians right and left, as if admitting to soft bribery was a sign of what a great reformer he would be.
And it turns out that there is one candidate who was so metaphysically perfect, so personally close to him, that Trump tells us his (illegal) contribution to her was not designed to make sure she’d be “there” for him.
Meet Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney general.
Trump would have us believe that it is pure coincidence that the Trump Foundation’s $25,000 contribution to Bondi on Sept. 17, 2013, was made four days after the Orlando Sentinel reported that Bondi’s office was considering joining a class-action lawsuit against Trump University. It was brought by customers who felt victimized by what sure looks in retrospect like a shameless rip-off operation. Weeks later, Bondi announced that Florida would not join the lawsuit after all.
Yes, when Trump needs something, he gets it.
Except that in this one case, Trump insists he wasn’t looking for anything. “I have just known Pam Bondi for years,” he said Monday. “I have a lot of respect for her.” It’s been hard to find evidence that Trump and Bondi were close before Sept. 17, 2013, although I suppose the time between then and now technically adds up to “years.”
The Donald’s affections did not stop there. The Huffington Post revealed Tuesday that Trump also hosted a fundraiser for Bondi in March 2014 at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The invitation listed Trump and Rudy Giuliani as “special guests.”
However much he respects Bondi, Trump (or his minions) miraculously misreported the improper donation to her. As David Fahrenthold recounted in The Washington Post, Trump paid a $2,500 penalty because nonprofit, tax-exempt foundations are barred by law from making campaign contributions.
The foundation not only didn’t mention the political gift in its tax filings. It made, Fahrenthold wrote, “a false listing, showing that the foundation had instead given [a] $25,000 gift to a Kansas nonprofit with a name similar to Bondi’s political group. That gift did not exist. Trump had given nothing to the Kansas group.”
And on Wednesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog organization, filed a complaint asking the IRS to reopen the case because Trump may have violated a separate tax rule against “self-dealing” by nonprofits.
Hillary Clinton’s enemies keep coming back to the same old stories and try to freshen them up. It’s the server, the foundation, and the speaking fees. (The GOP has, for now, left Benghazi dormant, after eight congressional investigations.) Trump, on the other hand, has left such a rich trail of shoddiness that on Aug. 30, David Graham of The Atlantic published an aptly named “cheat sheet” on “the many scandals of Donald Trump.” Graham helpfully noted that to “catalogue the full sweep of allegations would require thousands of words.”
Here, in the briefest form, is a selection from the Atlantic compendium: Trump University, Trump Institute, the beauty pageant scandals, racial discrimination in housing, questions about mafia ties, tenant intimidation, his various bankruptcies, the employment of undocumented workers (including models), breaking casino rules, refusing to pay workers and contractors, and using campaign funds to buy his own books.
Trump has run so many ethical stop signs over his long career that the media just can’t seem to keep up with the number of tickets he is due. Some of the scandals make mere cameo appearances and then disappear behind others.
Of course journalists should investigate and detail all of Clinton’s lapses and mistakes. But it is hugely misleading to take every new Trump scandal and match it up with a replay of one of the standby Clinton scandals — and then pretend there is rough equality between the candidates on some scandal-o-meter.
There is not. Where sleaze and corner-cutting are concerned, we all should pay proper tribute to Trumpian exceptionalism. When it comes to the broken system he so accurately described, Trump is the star.
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