Paul Waldman writes at The Washington Post:
Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.
So his charity paid money to settle business disputes of Trump’s. That makes him the beneficiary of the charity, not the donor to it.
In case you haven’t been following the story of the Trump Foundation, that last part is critical: Trump has given zero dollars to the Trump Foundation since 2009. Instead, he gets other rich people to donate money to the foundation, and he then uses their money for self-aggrandizement and sometimes self-enrichment. As Fahrenthold has documented, Trump has used foundation money for things like buying a six-foot-tall painting of himself, sometimes at charity events held at Mar-a-Lago, where he charges the charity for use of the facility, which means that not only is he not making the donation for which everyone is praising him, he’s actually making money on the deal. And then of course there’s the conveniently timed, illegal $25,000 donation from the foundation to Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, which was followed quickly by her decision not to join a lawsuit charging Trump with fraud over Trump University.
The Trump Foundation is basically a scam where he puts no money in himself, gets others to donate, and then often spends the money on things that either benefit him or make him look good.
I’m not a historian, but I’m beginning to think that Trump may be a singular figure not only in the history of American politics but in the history of American commerce as well. There seems to be no area of his extremely complex financial life that is not infected by double-dealing, public lies, broken promises, or outright fraud.
His foundation seems to be nothing more than a scam. He hires contractors to work on his buildings, then refuses to pay them, knowing they don’t have the resources to fight him and will probably accept pennies on the dollar, sometimes destroying small businesses in the process. He creates one swindle after another, like Trump University, the Trump Institute, and the Trump Network, suckering struggling people with promises of instant wealth. He sues people who criticize him, knowing that he has no case but just hoping to punish them with legal fees.
And he won’t release his tax returns. Mainly I suspect they would reveal that he is in fact not anywhere near as wealthy as he claims, and also he pays almost no tax.
Republicans and many journalists practically lost their minds when we discovered that an executive at the Clinton Foundation had encouraged Clinton to meet with major donors to the foundation when she was secretary of state — even though those donors were people like a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the Crown Prince of Bahrain, a critical U.S. ally. Say what you will about that, but there’s never been even a hint that the Clintons used their foundation, which has done a tremendous amount of good work around the world, for personal gain. Now think what the reaction would be if we discovered that Clinton used her foundation’s money to pay off personal lawsuits. It would take about twelve seconds for outraged Republicans to demand an indictment and nervous Democrats to start calling for her to pull out of the race.
I think the Clinton Foundation has been used to buy access and influence, which is why some donors have donated. Clinton deserves criticism for a number of issues around the Foundation. But there is no doubt it has spent those donations on genuine causes which has helped many. It is not comparable to using a charity to pay off your own legal disputes.