Where’s the Money, Donnie?

Where’s the Money, Donnie?

Where’s the Money, Donnie?

I was gratified to learn that President Trump made good on his promise to donate $1 million of his personal funds to charities helping with relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. We, Americans, are some of the most generous people on the planet, and it was good to see the President put his money where his mouth was.

For a change.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s and his various supporter organizations’ record in that arena has been spotty.

Early in the Republican presidential primaries last year, the real estate mogul vowed to give $1 million of his personal fortune to veterans’ charities, plus an additional $5 million he said he had raised during a fundraiser in Iowa ahead of the state’s caucuses.

But it was revealed months later that Trump had not made good on that pledge, and only donated $1 million to the causes after facing pressure from media.

Business Insider just a week or so ago reported that leftover funds Trump’s inaugural committee promised to give to charity after having raised a massive $107 million for the inaugural ceremony has still not been donated to charity, even though some of that money has been used for decorating purposes in the White House and the Naval Observatory (the Vice President’s residence).

Another report from last year shows Trump diverted more than a quarter of a million dollars from his charity to settle legal bills that involved his for-profit businesses. Apparently, settlements for lawsuits that included agreements by Trump to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities, such as Fisher House and other charities of the plaintiff’s choosing, were paid from the non-profit Trump Foundation charity.

That’s just not cool.

Forbes reported in late June that the Trump Foundation diverted funds from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis to Trump’s business. It’s not that the Trump Foundation’s annual tournament didn’t do an enormous amount of good by raising more than $11 million for the cancer charity, but the younger Trump’s contention that the charity donates virtually all the money contributed toward helping kids with cancer, because he can get his family’s golf course for free and have most of the other costs donated, is just not true.

In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it’s clear that the course wasn’t free–that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.

Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.

And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.

Worse yet, Forbes quotes two individuals who are directly involved with the charity who contend that it was Donald Trump himself who specifically commanded the for-profit Trump Organization to start billing the nonprofit Eric Trump Foundation for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Again, I’m not denying the charity did a lot of good, but profiting off the backs of sick kids just doesn’t strike me as the right thing to do.

Fast forward to the present, and we have yet another example of Trump using other people’s money for his own benefit. To be sure, using money donated toward his re-election campaign to cover legal bills in the Russia probe is not illegal, but if I were an RNC donor, I would be quite unhappy that the money I contributed toward re-electing the President is being used to pay lawyers to defend him against whatever is discovered in the investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s U.S. election.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner.

This is not a common use of the funds. Past presidents have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements, but Trump is the first President in modern times to use these funds for a criminal probe.

Not cool.

Fact is that we know Russia meddled. Anyone who still doubts this needs their head examined. The intelligence report released in January confirmed what many had already suspected:

  • Russia’s actions last year demonstrated an escalation of activities that Russia has been engaged in for years – propaganda, disinformation, misinformation, and hacking.
  • The Russians probed state election systems for vulnerabilities last summer as well, and penetrated a small number of them.
  • Putin ordered the activities in the 2016 campaign. Well, duh. Nothing of that magnitude happens without Putin’s say-so.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system, as well as support the election of Trump over Hillary Clinton. This does not mean they were successful in either endeavor, despite Russian politicians’ boastful claims that Russia stole the U.S. presidency. If they did steal it, they got a lemon, because U.S. policy toward Russia has gotten stronger, not weaker, as Putin has hoped.

Correlation does not mean causation, and just because the Russians preferred Trump to Clinton, doesn’t mean that they successfully turned the election, nor does it mean Trump personally was involved in these activities.

It’s also not clear that Russia was successful in undermining Americans’ confidence in the election system. Gallup polling in September 2016 indicated that only 62 percent of Americans had confidence in the accuracy of the vote count, but this number is similar to the polls conducted in 2008 – before revelations about active Russian meddling came to light. So it’s difficult to attribute the low confidence to the Russians.

Point of all this is that there are definitive reasons to investigate Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections. (WARNING: Slight tangent ahead.)

No, I don’t want to hear derpage about how “we do it toooooooo!!!!”

No, Obama “interfering” in Israeli elections is hardly the same thing as what the Russians did last year. Using U.S. grants to fund a politically active group in hopes it would influence the Israeli election is much different than hacking into private servers, stealing information about a candidate and strategically releasing it in hopes of influencing the election or discrediting the President-elect. The Obama Administration’s funding of propaganda and opposition movements is nothing new, especially given our actions during the Cold War to stop the spread of communism.  We also used “propaganda” outlets such as Radio Free Europe and Voice of America to try and provide a bit of freedom to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain. So yes, everyone does it.

Frankly, yes, I’m a hypocrite when it comes to us spying on other countries. I want our national security professionals to have as much information about other nations as possible. I want to be able to determine what their leadership is up to, and to assess motivations and goals. That is what an intelligent nation does. It’s nothing they don’t attempt to do to us.

That said, I don’t want to make it easy for them or make excuses for their behavior. I don’t want them to succeed in penetrating our election systems. I don’t want them to gain insight into our leadership, our decisionmaking process, or anything else that may give them an advantage. AMERICA FIRST!

\tangent

Look, I don’t know if Trump actively colluded with the Russians to sway the election his way. My educated guess is he probably did not. I think Trump did what he has always done in last year’s elections – he made deals, chatted with counterparts, and cultivated relationships – and being a political n00b, he likely didn’t understand the repercussions (or didn’t care about them, because he’s Trump).  But whether he actively did something unethical, or simply developed relationships he felt would be useful in the future, he should be defending himself with his own money, the amount of which is a source of vanity for him. What he shouldn’t be doing is using money people contributed to his re-election campaign to defend himself from legal trouble, regardless of whether said trouble was brought on by intentional actions or merely lack of knowledge about how the process works.

No matter what the intent was, he shouldn’t be using other people’s money to defend his handiwork.

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

5 Comments
  • Johnny says:

    “This is not a common use of the funds. Past presidents have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters… ”
    Exactly what about this presidency has been “routine”.
    Sorry, either its OK to pay legal bills with these funds or it is not.
    I was with you until this point, but here it just starts to sound petty.

    • Marta Hernandez says:

      These are different types of expenses. It’s election related, such as ballot access, versus personal criminal matters. Honestly, that doesn’t sit right with me.

  • Johnny says:

    Fair enough.
    I have difficulty classifying “legal bills in the Russia probe” as a personal criminal matter. Did I miss the part where Trump was charged with a criminal offence?

    Methinks if Trump had not been running for/elected President he wouldn’t be facing legal expenses relating to a probe of Russian interference in the election, but that’s just my interpretation.

    • Marta Hernandez says:

      From what I understand, the probe has been expanded to investigating whether or not Trump’s firing of Comey had anything to do with the Russia. That, to me, qualifies as a personal criminal matter (committed on government time, of course). Like I said, not illegal or anything, but strikes me as really unethical and sketchy. 🙁

  • Johnny says:

    You have a point.

    Myself, I would have fired Comey the moment he self-declared himself “acting Attorney General” and gave a pass to Hillary.
    No gray area there – FBI investigates and DOJ decides whether or not to prosecute. Comey crossed way over the line and had to go.

    But Trump waited until his chain of command was in place and until he got an official recommendation from Comey’s direct superior before he pulled the trigger – that was so by-the-book you’d think Trump wrote the book.

    And still the naysayers try to tar Trump with the “fired Comey to scuttle the Russia investigation” routine?

    Like Comey, personally, was investigating and the matter (with apologies to Susan Rice) would go away with him? Please.

    Anyway, very good piece, Marta.
    Thanks for responding to my nitpickings.

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