In another startling display of a liberal state attorney general stepping into the political arena, New York’s attorney general sued President Donald Trump and his foundation on Thursday.
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is a Democrat. (I know, big surprise, right?) Her lawsuit is accusing President Trump of illegally dipping his hand into the tiller of his charitable foundation to fix business problems and fund his campaign during his White House run.
The president, unsurprisingly, has called the case “ridiculous.”
The lawsuit against Trump and the foundation directors — his children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka — is seeking $2.8 million in restitution. There are also additional unspecified penalties. The lawsuit also seeks the dissolution of the foundation, although The Donald had already pledged to dismantle it anyway.
Underwood’s office claims there was a coordinated effort by Trump’s campaign and the foundation to polish up The Donald’s political image by shelling out to veterans’ groups during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. These grants were largely made up of other people’s money, according to the lawsuit.
This is, of course, how charitable foundations work, however. One wealthy family puts in a bit of seed money, and they then try to convince all their wealthy friends to pour more money into the foundation. The foundation’s operatives then disperse the money, usually to charities that the board (I.E., the founders or their children) approve of. It’s extremely business-as-usual, and just about every wealthy asshole does it, always with the purpose of polishing the family’s public image and building a reputation as a “philanthropist.”
But apparently, if you’re running for president, it can get you sued.
“The foundation’s grants made Mr. Trump and the campaign look charitable and increased the candidate’s profile to Republican primary voters and among important constituent groups,” Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit said.
No shit, Barb. Making their founders “look charitable” is literally the entire purpose of charitable foundations.
The lawsuit also accuses the foundation of “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations.” Although this is a little less common with private foundations, given that they have to show their books to the IRS (and the IRS will crack down hard on nonprofits that show any financial funny business), it does still happen.
Whether it happened in Trump’s case or not remains to be seen.
Underwood and her team of lawyers referred their findings to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission for further action. IRS and FEC representatives declined to comment.
The Trump Foundation’s mission says its funds are to be used “exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary or educational purposes,” according to the lawsuit. And it is true that, in exchange for tax-exempt status, non-profit charities like the Trump Foundation are strictly forbidden from getting involved in political campaigns.
So, there’s at least a chance that the Trump Foundation could lose its tax-exempt status. Not that that would do much damage to Trump personally, but it would be bad for the charities that his Foundation supports.
Either way, Trump has declared that he “won’t settle this case!”
He also said that former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who started the investigation, “never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case” before he resigned in disgrace last month. Schneiderman was accused of physically abusing women he dated. He has denied the allegations.