New York Attorney General Opens Probe Into The Trump Foundation

Sep 14, 2016
Originally published on September 14, 2016 5:27 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're starting off this hour with the investigation into the Donald J. Trump Foundation. The Trump campaign calls the investigation by New York's attorney general a left-wing hit job. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, says he first contacted the Trump Foundation back in June.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: Charities have to follow the rules. You can't give money to a political campaign.

ROSE: That's Schneiderman earlier today on "CBS This Morning." Schneiderman says he was investigating reports that Trump's Foundation gave money to the Political Action Committee of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. That's a clear violation of IRS rules, and Trump paid a penalty for it. Schneiderman says that's where his investigation began.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

SCHNEIDERMAN: There were allegations that they'd made contributions to political committees, which is illegal. I'm just following the rules as I do with any other charity. We never had a press conference. We never did it - any grandstanding on this. This is just me doing my job.

ROSE: Trump's campaign doesn't see it that way. In a statement, a spokesman blasted Schneiderman, a Democrat who's endorsed Hillary Clinton, as a, quote, "partisan hack who is simply trying to distract from a bad week for the Clinton campaign."

Schneiderman and Trump are not exactly strangers. Schneiderman is already suing the GOP nominee over alleged fraud at his Trump University. Even people who like Schneiderman say he can come off as opportunistic.

JAMES FISHMAN: One of the most dangerous places in New York is between Mr. Schneiderman and a microphone.

ROSE: James Fishman is a former prosecutor in the New York Attorney General's Office and taught law at Pace University. But that said, Fishman thinks there are potential problems with the way the Trump Foundation is run.

FISHMAN: Carelessness, sloppiness, ignorance of either the spirit or substance of rules.

ROSE: An investigation by The Washington Post found that Trump Foundation funds were used for some questionable purchases - a football helmet autographed by Tim Tebow that Trump won at a charity auction for $12,000 and a life-sized painting of Donald Trump that his wife won at another charity auction for 20,000.

The Post also learned that Trump himself gave no money to his own foundation after 2008. Instead it takes donations from others and passes them on to charitable causes. Leslie Lenkowsky teaches philanthropic studies at Indiana University.

LESLIE LENKOWSKY: When a person gets money from a foundation, they think often that the money is actually that of the person after whom the foundation is named. That certainly isn't true for the Trump Foundation.

ROSE: Lenkowsky notes that the foundations of many celebrities and athletes work much the same way, and he says that's not likely to be a legal problem for the Trump Foundation. But it might be an optical problem. Trump talks about giving his own money to charity anonymously. Here he is in an interview with ABC from June.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Over a period of years, I've given over a hundred million dollars to charity.

ROSE: But Trump has not given any proof for that claim. He could release his tax returns which would show what he's given to charity, but Trump is the only presidential candidate in the last 40 years not to release his returns. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.