The New York attorney general's office confirms it is investigating Donald Trump's charity foundation in order to determine if the organization is "complying with the laws that govern charities in New York.
The investigation was begun by Eric Schneiderman's office last June, according to Schneiderman, after a 2013 donation of $25,000 was made to a political action committee that backed the re-election of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi, a Republican, was reportedly considering investigating Trump over claims of fraud connected with Trump University, a for-profit education company endorsed by Trump that ran a real estate training program from 2005 until 2010. Several lawsuits claiming fraud were filed against the organization prior to its closing.
According to an interview with CNN, Schneiderman said the investigation was launched after his office became concerned that the Trump Foundation may have engaged in some impropriety from that point of view (complying with laws governing charities).
"And we've inquired into it, and we've had correspondence with them. I didn't make a big deal out of it or hold a press conference, but we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it's complying with the laws that govern charities in New York."
According to Trump's campaign, the donation was a mistake, caused by a clerical error. The campaign also pointed out that Schneiderman has come out publicly supporting Trump's opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The incident began when Pam Bondi personally solicited money from Trump for her campaign, according to The Associated Press. From there, the story gets a little complicated.
A story from the Washington Post in March offered an explanation from the Trump Foundation treasurer as to how the donation came about and how, through several accounting errors, it looked as if the Trump Foundation was donating to Bondi's campaign -- something that is against the law.
Trump Foundation treasurer Allen Weisselberg explained that an accounting clerk received a request for payment from a group called “And Justice for All.” And Justice for All is the name of a PAC that backs Bondi. It is also the name of a nonprofit in Utah and is similar to the name of an organization in Kansas. All three groups are part of the explanation.
Weisselberg told The Post that the mistakes began with an accounts-payable clerk who was asked to cut a check to And Justice for All in 2013. It is the clerk’s responsibility to determine if such a check is drawn on the account of the foundation or from Trump’s personal checking account, Weisselberg explained. In the case of a political donation, it would have come from Trump’s personal account.
Another part of the clerk's job, Weisselberg said, is to consult a book that lists “bona fide charities” before she cuts a check.
“In that book, it lists all the bona fide charities, so we went to that book and in that book, sure enough, is And Justice for All,” Weisselberg told The Post.
The And Justice for All organization the clerk found in the book was for the nonprofit located in Utah, not Bondi's PAC. Since it was a nonprofit, she wrote the check off the foundation’s account.
How the check a clerk thought was meant for a Utah nonprofit got to the attorney general of the State of Florida is unclear – even to Weisselberg.
“The check got cut, and after that, I don’t know exactly where it ended up,” he said.
“It must have gone, I guess, to Pam Bondi,” Weisselberg said. “We spoke to our accountants, our tax attorneys in Washington, and they say these things happen all the time.”
The next mistake came when an accounting firm reported to the IRS the donation, made in 2013, went to “Justice for All,” a group in Kansas. When Justice for All was contacted, they reported no such donation from Trump.
The controversy has arisen since it is illegal for charities to donate to political candidates. Trump could have used funds from his personal account to make the donation, but not from the foundation’s account. When the Trump campaign was informed of the donation issue this past spring, they said they contacted the IRS, corrected the error and paid a $2,500 fine. Trump reimbursed the foundation with a check from his personal account, according to his campaign.
The fraud investigation that Bondi had threatened over Trump University never happened, although Bondi denies the decision was influenced by the donation she received.
Bondi endorsed Trump in March of this year. Both she and Trump have denied there was any quid pro quo in connection with the donation and the decision not to launch the investigation.
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