WASHINGTON ― Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold on Tuesday published yet another blockbuster piece on Donald Trump’s charitable foundation, detailing how the Republican presidential nominee used $258,000 from his charity to settle lawsuits concerning his other businesses.
In one case, Trump used charity money to settle a dispute over the size of his flagpole in front of his Florida Mar-A-Lago estate. He later used $5,000 from his charity to spend on advertising for his hotels and another $10,000 to have his likeness rendered in a large painting (the second such time his foundation has paid for such a portrait).
If Trump were a normal candidate, these allegations would be devastating. But he’s clearly not a normal candidate given he’s already gotten away with birtherism, racism and mocking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not being a real hero because he was a prisoner of war.
Normal candidates have resigned from office and pleaded guilty to charges stemming from similar games with charities that Trump has played. Some have gone to prison. If recent campaign history holds, Trump will move on from this to his next momentary scandal.
Just ask former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon. In February 2010, she was forced to resign as part of a plea deal with prosecutors over her misuse of funds that included her stealing gift cards that were supposed to go to poor children. Prosecutors alleged in their indictment that she used at least $2,000 in Target and Best Buy gift cards. There were other misdeeds, but the gift cards stood out.
Or ask Billy Eugene Wilson, who was indicted in November 2013 when he was mayor of Greenbrier, Tennessee, after he was alleged to have swiped $60,000 from a local Toys for Tots charity he founded. Wilson was not an unusual case. Two years later, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a Democrat from Atlanta, resigned his seat in the Georgia legislature and pleaded guilty to tax fraud after it was discovered that he used charity funds for personal use.
This past summer, U.S. Rep Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and her chief of staff were indicted for allegedly using an education charity as “a personal slush fund.” Prosecutors alleged that Brown and Co. raised $800,000 that was supposed to go toward scholarships but instead was used to pay for plane tickets, personal car repairs and lavish trips. The charity allegedly only gave out two scholarships totaling $1,200.
“The indictment said more than $200,000 from the charity was used to pay for Brown to host a golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, to pay for lavish receptions, a luxury box at a Beyonce concert and a box when the Jacksonville Jaguars played the Washington Redskins,” according to a local news report.
After 12 terms in office, Brown went down in defeat in the Democratic primary soon after the indictment was issued.
Politicians have also gotten in scandals involving their family’s own charity. Two months before the Tennessee mayor’s indictment, New Jersey Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex) stepped down from office, after he conceded he stole roughly $32,500 from his family’s charity and lied about it on financial disclosure forms. He was later charged with the theft and sentenced to three years probation. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to never again seek public office in the state.
Like Coutinho’s charity, the Trump Foundation is a family operation. It was started by the real estate mogul in the late ‘80s with largely his own funds. As Farenthold reported, Trump later stopped giving his own money to the charity and instead relied on donations from others. It has been difficult to figure out just what work the foundation has actually done that could be described as charitable. Trump has used the foundation’s money to spend on items that can best be described as vanity projects or personal needs. In another recent piece, Fahrenthold reported that Trump paid $12,000 for a Tim Tebow-signed football helmet.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.