Donald Trump's Foundation Never Bothered Getting Certified As A Real Charity, Egad.
Maybe not that bright a guy. It's possible.
Gosh, who'd have guessed that the Donald J. Trump Foundation, that weird "charity" the Republican nominee for president uses for all sorts of fun stuff that may or may not have a civic purpose, turns out to lack a very basic certification required for charities in the state of New York in order to solicit funds? Trump hasn't put a penny of his own money into the foundation since 2008, so it's been running on other people's money for years -- without the proper paperwork required to do so under New York law, according to the state attorney general's office. We're sure you are every bit as flabbergasted by that news as we are!
Once again, the news comes to us via the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold, who has been earning his doctorate in Sleazy Trump Financial Studies this year. Here's the nitty:
Under the laws in New York, where the Donald J. Trump Foundation is based, any charity that solicits more than $25,000 a year from the public must obtain a special kind of registration beforehand. Charities as large as Trump’s must also submit to a rigorous annual audit that asks — among other things — whether the charity spent any money for the personal benefit of its officers.
If New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) finds that Trump’s foundation raised money in violation of the law, he could order the charity to stop raising money immediately. With a court’s permission, Schneiderman could also force Trump to return money that his foundation has already raised.
Well how do you like them apples? Schneiderman began investigating the Trump Foundation after reports that it had been used to make an illegal political contribution to the campaign of Florida attorney general Pam Bondi back in 2013, as well as other little irregularities like paying for Trump's legal settlements using Foundation funds, plus purchases of ugly paintings of Trump and a Tim Tebow f'ball helmet to decorate Trump properties.
Now, as it turns out, that requirement for certification to solicit more than $25K a year is rather a big deal, seeing as how Donald J. Trump himself no longer puts his own money into the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Tax filings show that in each of the past 10 years for which there are records, the Trump Foundation raised more than $25,000 from outsiders. Tax records alone do not reveal whether the donations amounted to solicitations under New York law, but in several cases there is strong evidence that they did.
For instance, the foundation has received more than $2.3 million from companies that owed money to Trump or one of his businesses — but that were instructed to pay the foundation instead, according to people familiar with those transactions.
In the most obvious example of a public solicitation, the Trump Foundation set up a website early this year to collect small-dollar donations that it promised to pass along to veterans. In all, the website said, the Trump Foundation took in $1.67 million through that site.
Leapin' lizards, it's almost as if the Trump Foundation were less of a real charity and more of a halfassed sham cobbled together with money, baling wire, post-it notes, and snot. Needless to say, Fahrenthold asked the opinions of some real experts on charity law what they thought of the thing, both to enlighten the casual reader and to give us all another chance to point and laugh at the pretenses of the supposed Big Shot Billionaire:
“He’s a billionaire who acts like a thousandaire,” said James J. Fishman, a professor at Pace University’s law school in White Plains, N.Y. He said Trump’s foundation seemed to have made errors, including the lack of proper registration, that were more common among very small family foundations.
“You wouldn’t expect somebody who’s supposed to be sophisticated, and brags about his business prowess, would run his foundation like this,” Fishman said.
Mostly, it looks like the Trump Foundation grew beyond its original purpose (as a "charity" into which Trump could pour proceeds from his dumb book The Art Of the Deal after he rashly said all proceeds would go to charity), but never actually got the kinds of certifications needed for a larger operation. In its early years, Trump was the foundation's sole donor, putting in a total of $5.4 million between 1987 and 2006.
Under state law, the foundation during that period was required to have only the least-demanding kind of certification, referred to as “EPTL,” because it is governed by the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law.
Under that registration, the Trump Foundation filed annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service and the state. But the state did not require an independent audit to ensure that the charity was handling its funds properly.
As Trump grew bored with giving his own money to the foundation and started soliciting money from other donors -- over $4.3 million since he stopped giving his own money in 2008 -- the foundation should have gotten a different type of certification required for groups that solicit donations:
Under state law, charities that solicit donations from others in New York must register under a different law, called “7A” for its article heading.
In that law, the definitions of “solicit” and “in New York” are both broad. Solicit means “to directly or indirectly make a request for a contribution, whether express or implied, through any medium.” The requirement covers any solicitation that happened in New York or involved a donor who was in New York when somebody called them and asked.
And looky, here's the Trump Foundation's New York paperwork from 2014, with the box for "EPTL only" checked and the "7A" options -- showing it solicits donations -- left blank:
Say, would this be another good place for an expert opinion? It sure would!
“The only thing it wouldn’t cover is somebody giving money without being asked,” said Pamela Mann, a former head of the New York State charities bureau, who is now in private practice at Carter Ledyard & Milburn. “The law says that soliciting from the public in New York, without being registered to do so, is an illegal act.”
Now, just to cover all his journalistic bases and not claim anything he doesn't have absolutely nailed down, Fahrenthold notes that since the Trump campaign largely refuses to talk to him, and since some of the sources of donations also aren't saying anything, "it is not clear whether the donations were actually solicited and, if so, whether the solicitation happened in New York." But some of the payments were definitely solicited, like the $400,000 fee Comedy Central paid to the foundation for Trump's appearance in a roast.
The really big solicitation, of course, came in January when Trump had a temper tantrum at Fox News, skipped out on a Republican primary debate, and instead held a Great Big Fundraiser For The Vets, with all donations going straight to the Trump Foundation -- the website is still up, and brags, "Over 1,670,000 raised online.” So, yeah, that was some soliciting of donations all right, and well above $25,000. The New York Times also notes the fundraiser also skipped the basic step of registering as a charity in the states from which donations came. Oops!
In a nice bit of symmetry, it was questions over what the hell happened to all the donations to that fundraiser that got Fahrenthold chasing down the mysteries of Trump's charitable giving -- or lack of it -- in the first place.
So who cares if Trump's little charity didn't dot every t and cross every i on its charity paperwork? For one thing, this is a guy who wants to deport 11 million people whose immigration paperwork isn't in order, because they are here illegally. He's the law and order candidate. But in his very own "charity," he's pretty clearly playing fast and loose with the tax laws himself. As Fahrenthold notes,
The most important consequence of not registering under the more rigorous “7A” level was that the Trump Foundation was not required by the state to submit to an annual audit by outside accountants. In such an audit, charity-law experts said, the accountants might have checked the Trump Foundation’s books — comparing its records with its outgoing checks, and asking whether the foundation had engaged in any transactions that benefited Trump or his businesses.
Oh, yeah, it did, as we're all quite aware of now. So how much trouble could Trump be in? As Fahrenthold acknowledged on The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell Thursday, if prosecuted, these would be violations of civil, not criminal law, but the results could be serious for the Trump Foundation: It could either be required to refund donations, or even be shut down in New York.
</center> <p>As of yet, the Trump campaign appears not to have responded to this latest report; their options appear limited since Mr. Fahrenthold is <a href="https: //wonkette.substack.com/p/donald-trump-justifies-fat-shaming-alicia-machado-by-slut-shaming-her-instead" target="_blank">definitely not overweight,</a> or even a slut. They may have to settle for calling him a four-eyed little geek, slamming him into a locker, and stealing his lunch money. </p><p>[<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-foundation-lacks-the-certification-required-for-charities-that-solicit-money/2016/09/29/7dac6a68-8658-11e6-ac72-a29979381495_story.html" target="_blank">WaPo</a> / <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/20/us/politics/trump-foundation-charity-veterans.html?_r=0" target="_blank">NYT</a> / <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/new-report-trump-foundation-not-certified-776261699827" target="_blank">MSNBC</a>]</p>