Did Trump misuse $258,000 from his own charity?

A new report suggests that funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation are being spent in ways other than how its donors intended.

John Locher/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bedford, N.H., Sept. 29, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been questioned about his political qualifications to take over the job in the Oval Office. 

But as more investigations and reports are completed, Mr. Trump's potential misuse of funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation is becoming the center of its own controversy. 

If recent reports prove to be accurate, Trump spent $258,000 of the charity’s funds to settle lawsuits involving his other businesses, according to David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post. 

For example, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., owed the city $120,000 in unpaid fines because of a dispute over the height of the club’s flagpole. Palm Beach officials eventually told Trump they would waive the fines – if the club donated $100,000 to a charity for veterans.

Instead, Trump sent a $100,000 donation to the veteran charity with Trump Foundation funds. In other words, the settlement was completed using other people's monetary donations intended for different purposes.

"You wouldn't expect somebody who's supposed to be sophisticated, and brags about his business prowess, would run his foundation like this," James J. Fishman, a professor at Pace University’s law school in New York, tells The Washington Post.

And Jeffery Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington, finds The Post’s findings "really shocking." 

"I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I've never encountered anything so brazen. If he's using other people's money – run through his foundation – to satisfy his personal obligations, then that's about as blatant an example of self-dealing [as] I've seen in awhile."

The New York attorney general's office has announced they are also investigating the donations "based on troubling transactions that have recently come to light." A lawyer for Palm Beach said the attorney general's office contacted him for lawsuit-related documents. 

But Trump and his campaign discredit the report. Instead, Trump's team says the criticism is aimed at the wrong presidential candidate’s charitable foundation, in a statement from Jason Miller, the campaign's senior communications adviser: 

"In typical Washington Post fashion, they’ve gotten their facts wrong. It is the Clinton Foundation that is set up to make sure the Clintons personally enrich themselves by selling access and trading political favors.... The Post’s reporting is peppered with inaccuracies and omissions from a biased reporter who is clearly intent on distracting attention away from the corrupt Clinton Foundation, a vehicle for the Clintons to peddle influence at the expense of the American people. Mr. Trump personally and the Trump Foundation, however, are staying focused on their charitable giving to veterans, the police, children and other deserving recipients."

Many outlets (including The Washington Post) have accused The Clinton Foundation of shady conduct during Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's time as secretary of State. Most allegations take the form of "pay-to-play," with emails revealing numerous Clinton Foundation donations corresponding with related State Department meetings or agreements.

No wrong doing has been officially proven and investigators have defined the instances as unfortunate coincidences. But that's not to say that Secretary Clinton is in the clear.

"Perhaps the most startling thing about these emails was how clearly they revealed donor expectations," explains the Monitor's Peter Grier earlier this month. "However Clinton responded, donors felt their money entitled them to access and accelerated consideration. That’s a window into the larger problem of money in US politics overall."

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