Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Investigate PAMELA JO BONDI's TRUMP Donation: ORLANDO SENTINEL
Florida voters entrust their attorney general with several key responsibilities, including consumer protection. A glance at Attorney General Pam Bondi's website shows her job description includes protecting consumers in the state against "unconscionable, deceptive and unfair practices in any trade or commerce."
If you find that description reassuring, you probably haven't been paying much attention to the news lately.
As Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell first reported in 2013, Bondi's campaign committee received a $25,000 donation from a Donald Trump foundation just days after her office said it was reviewing complaints from Floridians who said they'd been scammed in real-estate seminars promoted by Trump. Bondi's office then decided not to pursue the complaints, insisting there simply wasn't enough evidence.
That sequence alone was suspicious. But this week a spokesman for Bondi confirmed she had personally solicited the donation from Donald Trump. And a week before that check arrived, she received a $500 donation from Trump's daughter, Ivanka Trump. The spokesman insisted Bondi hadn't been aware that there had been dozens of complaints to the attorney general's office about Trump's seminars.
Most of the complaints were related to Trump Institute, which went out of business in 2010, the year Bondi was first elected. Fewer applied to Trump University, which is now the target of a lawsuit from New York's attorney general. But the complaints about Trump University echoed the ones about Trump Institute: Consumers were invited to "free" seminars, then prodded to pay for more information. So contrary to what Bondi's office has argued, the Trump Institute complaints didn't somehow become moot when it went out of business.
Maxwell, who pored over thousands of pages of documents released by Bondi's office in response to his public-records request, found references to scores of complaints from Floridians about Trump's seminars. One consumer said Trump University cost him $26,000 and drove him into bankruptcy. Bondi's office told him to look online for a class-action lawsuit he could join. Maxwell could find no evidence from the documents that the office had thoroughly looked into any complaints. Floridians who believe they've been fleeced are still due a full investigation.
Bondi has said Floridians could join the lawsuit from New York's attorney general, who called Trump University's seminars a "bait and switch scheme" that fleeced consumers of thousands of dollars. Since when did he take over responsibility for protecting Florida consumers?
Bondi has forged close political ties with Trump since he launched his presidential campaign. She endorsed him before Florida's March 15 primary, ahead of most other top Republicans in Florida. She reportedly has participated in conference calls on campaign strategy with Trump and his other top supporters.
Meanwhile, Trump has boasted on the campaign trail about getting politicians to do his bidding with campaign contributions.
Not surprisingly, Florida Democratic leaders have pounced on the suspicious timing of Bondi's decision not to act on complaints against Trump's seminars. They've called for independent state and federal investigations.
But there are more than partisan reasons to support such probes. Whether Republican or Democrat, Florida's attorney general has a duty to put the interests of the state's consumers above those of her campaign contributors. If she hasn't, she needs to be held to account.
And if Bondi truly did nothing wrong, she will welcome an independent investigation to clear her name.