Pay to Play, Mr. Trump?
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
SEPT. 6, 2016
Donald Trump with Pam Bondi before he spoke at a campaign event in Florida in August. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
In light of the suspicions hanging over Donald Trump and Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney general, this opening quote from her Republican National Convention speech is particularly rich. “Nov. 8 is a day of reckoning for all those who have abused their power,” she said. “Winning this election means reclaiming something to which I’ve dedicated my entire career: the rule of law.”
While it hasn’t been proved that Mr. Trump or Ms. Bondi violated bribery law, there’s little doubt that they abused the public trust in 2013, when Ms. Bondi received a $25,000 campaign contribution from Mr. Trump four days after her office announced that Florida was “reviewing the allegations” in a lawsuit filed in New York against his Trump University. Attorneys general in New York and California are pursuing separate class-action suits alleging that Trump University bilked consumers of tens of thousands of dollars they each paid for a worthless real-estate investment course. In the end, Ms. Bondi’s office did not take any action against Trump University.
Mr. Trump’s contribution from his family foundation to Ms. Bondi violated federal tax law barring tax-exempt charities from engaging in political activity. The Washington Post reported last week that Mr. Trump paid a $2,500 penalty to the Internal Revenue Service for the violation.
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News of the fine came as Mr. Trump has spent days accusing Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation of similar pay-to-play schemes. Confronted on Monday, Mr. Trump said oddly that he hadn’t spoken to Ms. Bondi. The Associated Press reported in June that an adviser to Ms. Bondi confirmed that Ms. Bondi had spoken to Mr. Trump and asked for the contribution.
Mr. Trump has made a point of saying that he’s in the habit of buying politicians. He said in July 2015, “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.” And during a Republican debate the next month, he said: “I was a businessman. 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, and they are there for me.” In Iowa in January, he said: “When I call, they kiss my ass. O.K.?”
Ms. Bondi’s office did not respond when asked for an explanation of why she would accept a $25,000 donation from Mr. Trump just days after her office announced that it was reviewing New York’s allegations against him.
The Florida allegations are not the first of their kind. In 2013 and 2014, Mr. Trump gave a total of $35,000 to the campaign of Greg Abbott, Texas’ attorney general, now the state’s governor. In 2010, Mr. Abbott’s office had dropped its investigation of Trump University. A 2014 series in The Times recounted in detail how many attorneys general, including Ms. Bondi, accepted travel, luxury accommodations and other perks from corporations targeted by their offices. This behavior is practically built into a campaign finance system in which nearly limitless cash engulfs both parties.
If Ms. Bondi promised to back off the Trump University suit in exchange for campaign money during that 2013 phone conversation, it could be a crime. As for Mr. Trump, the $2,500 I.R.S. fine is a tiny penalty, unless voters impose consequences of their own.
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A version of this editorial appears in print on September 7, 2016, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Pay to Play, Mr. Trump?.