The Slatest

Trump Foundation Made Improper Donation to Iowa Conservative Group That Gave Him Early Campaign Boost

Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 15, 2015.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the Washington Post’s David Farenthold has documented at length, Donald Trump appears to have violated laws governing charitable donations by using Trump Foundation funds to settle personal debts and purchase items that he seems to have kept for personal use. The Trump Foundation has also paid a fine for making a political donation to Florida attorney general Pam Bondi not long before her office decided not to investigate claims of fraud against Trump University (“University”). Now a RealClearPolitics reporter has discovered another improper Trump Foundation donation that appears to have benefited Trump politically—a $10,000 gift to an Iowa group called the Family Leader, which gave Trump a key speaking slot at an Iowa gathering of social conservatives:

… RCP’s review of IRS filings by the Trump foundation turned up a fresh conflict: a 2013 donation of $10,000 to The Family Leader, a 501(c)(4) established to “develop, advocate and support legislative agenda at the state level.” Unlike a 501(c)(3), or a nonprofit organization, a 501(c)(4) can effect policy and engage in limited political activity, and thus is subject to greater restrictions on contributions from charities.

That’s the quid—the Trump Foundation’s donation to a political activism group. Here’s the quo:

In the same year that Trump’s foundation made that $10,000 contribution, The Family Leader featured Trump as a marquee speaker for the first time at its influential leadership summit in Iowa. The announcement raised eyebrows: Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican blog, wrote that Trump was “an odd fit for a social conservative confab,” while the Family Leader was roundly criticized by other Iowa conservatives for including Trump in the program.

More broadly, RCP says it’s documented $286,000 in donations that the Trump Foundation made between 2011 to 2014 to charities affiliated with “influential conservative or policy groups” whose support or attention in many cases benefited Trump’s presidential campaign. A caveat: Donations given to charities that have connections to political groups are not prima facie improper—the reason that the Family Leader donation is a rules violation is that it went directly to the group’s political activism arm rather than its affiliated charity. There’s a big caveat to that caveat, though: Donations made by private foundations (like the Trump Foundation) aren’t supposed to personally benefit private individuals (like presidential candidate Donald Trump). So donations like Trump’s $100,000 gift to evangelical leader Franklin Graham’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association may also have violated laws. (Graham says he’s not endorsing a presidential candidate but has praised Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration and Iran, and said that Trump has tapped into evangelicals’ desire for “strong leadership.” Graham also visited flood-stricken areas of Louisiana with Trump in August.)

This Trump guy—it just seems increasingly possible there’s just something that’s not on the up and up about him.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.