Broadcast news outlets largely ignored the allegations that the Trump Foundation engaged in pay to play with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi until this weekend, after The Washington Post reported that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for his illegal donation in support of Bondi. The omission came despite reporting from other sources dating back to March on the charges made against the Trump Foundation and the fines the IRS leveled against it.
Wash. Post Reported On Sept. 1 That Trump Paid IRS Fine For Violating Charity Rules With Contribution For Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
Wash. Post’s David Fahrenthold: Trump’s Charitable Foundation Violated Tax Laws. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that Republican presidential nominee “Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty” for “violat[ing] tax laws by giving a political contribution” to a campaign group for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. This donation occurred in 2013 while “Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University.” Fahrenthold noted that Bondi “decided not to pursue the case” and that the Trump Foundation called the donation “an honest mistake.” From the September 1 article:
Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.
The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.
The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.
In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.
The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.
“It was just an honest mistake,” [Trump Organization senior vice president Jeffrey] McConney said. He added: “It wasn’t done intentionally to hide a political donation, it was just an error.” [The Washington Post, 9/1/16]
Broadcast News Outlets Use Report Of The Fine To Address The Trump-Bondi Story
CBS’ John Dickerson: “Donald Trump Has Said He Knew Better Than Anybody How To Use The System.” In an interview with New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, CBS political director John Dickerson asked about “Donald Trump’s foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation” in support of Bondi. He noted that Donald Trump had said that “he knew better than anybody … how to use political donations to get the system to work for him” and asked, “Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen?” From the September 4 edition of CBS’ Face the Nation:
JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): I want to ask you about a report in The Washington Post this week about Donald Trump's foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn't. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him. Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen? [CBS, Face The Nation, 9/4/16]
NBC’s Peter Alexander: “The Trump Campaign Says The Money Was A Clerical Error.” On the Today show, Peter Alexander reported on Trump “responding to scrutiny after his charitable foundation was fined for violating tax law with a $25,000 donation” to a group connected to Pam Bondi. Alexander noted the timing of the donation occurred “just as Bondi was considering investigating Trump University for fraud.” From the September 6 edition of NBC’s Today:
PETER ALEXANDER: Trump also responding to scrutiny after his charitable foundation was fined for violating tax law with a $25,000 donation to a campaign group tied to Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, just as Bondi was considering investigating Trump University for fraud.
ALEXANDER: Bondi ultimately chose not to investigate. The Trump campaign says the money was a clerical error. [NBC, Today, 9/6/16]
CBS’s Major Garrett: Trump Says Bondi Contribution “Doesn’t Matter Because He’s Going To Win The Trump University Case.” CBS chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reported that Trump “denied his foundation made a political contribution in order to discourage Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi from joining a fraud suit against Trump University.” While “Trump says it doesn’t matter because he’s going to win the Trump University case,” Garrett noted that “Trump’s charitable foundation had to pay the IRS a $2,500 penalty.” From the September 6 edition of CBS’ This Morning:
MAJOR GARRETT: Trump also denied his foundation made a political contribution in order to discourage Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi from joining a fraud suit against Trump University.
GARRETT: Bondi solicited the contribution for a political group that supports her, and in the end, pursued no charges. Trump says it doesn't matter because he's going to win the Trump University case. Well, not entirely. Trump's charitable foundation had to pay the IRS a $2,500 penalty, Charlie, for making and failing to properly disclose this contribution. [CBS, This Morning, 9/6/16]
But Other Outlets Reported On Trump’s 2013 Donation In March
Trump Foundation Made The Original Donation In September 2013. The Associated Press reported in June that the political group backing Bondi's campaign reported receiving the $25,000 donation from Trump’s charitable foundation on September 17, 2013. The AP reported that this donation was made in “apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities” and that “the timing of the donation by Trump is notable because” Trump “has said he expects and receives favors from politicians to whom he gives money.” From the June 7 article:
Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates[.]
The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi.
The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 – four days after Bondi’s office publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities, according to a 2013 report in the Orlando Sentinel.
After the check came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.
The timing of the donation by Trump is notable because the now presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he expects and receives favors from politicians to whom he gives money.
“When I want something I get it,” Trump said at an Iowa rally in January. “When I call, they kiss my ass. It’s true.” [The Associated Press, 6/7/16]
International Business Times: CREW “Called On IRS To Investigate” Trump Foundation’s Political Contribution. The International Business Times reported that “the Washington nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on the IRS to investigate whether the Trump Foundation broke federal law when it donated to the pro-Bondi group.” The article quoted CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder, who said, “The rules are clear: a tax-exempt charitable foundation cannot support a political group.” (David Brock is the chairman and vice chairman of the boards of Media Matters and CREW, respectively.) From the March 21 article:
A new legal complaint against Donald Trump's charitable organization claims the group illegally donated to a political organization supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. State campaign finance records show the $25,000 contribution was made in September 2013, just days after Bondi's office announced she was considering whether to take legal action against Trump's now-defunct online seminar business, Trump University.
Bondi, who endorsed Trump last week, never wound up investigating the company. On Monday the Washington nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on the IRS to investigate whether the Trump Foundation broke federal law when it donated to the pro-Bondi group.
The Trump Foundation is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning that it is prohibited from supporting political candidates. CREW's complaint alleges that donating to And Justice For All, the pro-Bondi group, would violate this prohibition.
“The rules are clear: a tax-exempt charitable foundation cannot support a political group,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder in a statement. “The apparent failure to tell the IRS about this political activity makes matters worse and is something we’ve seen too many organizations doing lately.” [International Business Times, 3/21/16]
Wash. Post: Trump Aides Said “Charitable Foundation Made A Mistake.” Washington Post reporters David Fahrenthold and Rosalind Helderman reported that Trump aides said his foundation made a mistake in providing the $25,000 donation “to a political committee backing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi,” noting that his comment was “relatively unusual, because Trump has built his presidential bid on a distaste for apologies.” They reported that the Bondi donation “gained renewed attention in recent days when Bondi endorsed Trump.” From the March 22 article:
Aides to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said this week that his charitable foundation made a mistake when it donated $25,000 to a political committee backing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a potential violation of federal rules prohibiting charities from aiding political candidates.
The Donald J. Trump Foundation compounded the error by not listing its 2013 gift to the pro-Bondi group, And Justice for All, in its filings with the IRS that year, the aides said. The charity listed a $25,000 donation to an unrelated group with a similar name, Justice for All. But that group, a Wichita-based nonprofit, said it never received any money from the foundation.
Such an admission of error from the campaign is itself relatively unusual, because Trump has built his presidential bid on a distaste for apologies.
The foundation’s gift to Bondi gained renewed attention in recent days when Bondi endorsed Trump before this year’s Florida GOP primary, on March 15. Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, said it had been unaware that Trump’s foundation made the erroneous political gift.
Jordan Libowitz, a CREW spokeswoman, said that the IRS “needs to investigate and determine where the truth lies.”
“It appears they gave an illegal political donation, told the IRS they didn’t give a political donation, claimed it was made to a similarly named permissible group instead — and now they’re saying it’s an error?” Libowitz said. [The Washington Post, 3/22/16]
Despite This Previous Reporting, Broadcast News Outlets Essentially Ignored The Story From March Until This Weekend
CBS’s Major Garrett: “Trump Donated And Florida Stayed Out” Of His Trump U. Lawsuit. CBS chief White House correspondent Major Garrett was the only broadcast news reporter to mention the illegal donation on air between March 22, 2016, and September 1, 2016. He reported that Trump urged supporters “to come to his defense over Trump University,” linking it to the AP report that “Bondi personally asked Trump for a campaign contribution” when “her office was deciding whether to join the lawsuit against Trump University” and concluding, “Ultimately, Trump donated and Florida stayed out.” From the June 7 edition of CBS’ This Morning:
MAJOR GARRETT: After all this incoming fire from fellow Republicans, Trump held a conference call with supporters and urged them to come to his defense over Trump University. In a related development, The Associated Press reported that Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, personally asked Trump for a campaign contribution around the same time her office was deciding whether to join the lawsuit against Trump University. Ultimately, Trump donated, and Florida stayed out. [CBS, This Morning, 6/7/16]
No Other Broadcast Morning Or Evening News Shows Covered Trump’s Donation. A search of the Nexis database revealed no coverage of Trump’s contribution to a political group for Bondi’s re-election between March 22 and September 1 on ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press; and CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation, and no other mentions on This Morning. [Nexis, accessed 9/6/16]
Media Matters searched Nexis for coverage of Donald Trump's donations to Pam Bondi between March 22, 2016, and September 1, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC's morning, evening, and Sunday news programs. Media Matters used the terms: “Trump AND Bondi.”