A SERIES of fundraising scandals have rocked Donald Trump’s campaign with just two weeks to go until the federal election.
On Monday, an investigation by The Telegraph (UK) exposed key Trump proponents who were prepared to accept millions of dollars in illegal donations from what they believed to be foreign backers.
The senior figures came up with an elaborate method of getting the funds cleared by pushing them through firms that only accept funds for charitable reasons. Using these organisations — known as a 501(c)(4) — they’ve avoided scrutiny of who has donated to the campaign.
It raises questions over whom exactly the Trump campaign is getting its donations from.
Meanwhile, The Huffington Post has revealed that Mr Trump used donation money from his supporters to purchase nearly $300,000 worth of his own books, in order to generate royalty payments he could pocket for himself.
The scandals couldn’t come at a worse time for Mr Trump, who has repeatedly slammed Hillary Clinton for her reliance on donations.
Just last week at a rally in Colorado, he said: “(Ms Clinton’s) international donors control her every move”.
Pro-Clinton groups have not responded to claims of similar offers from foreign donations.
ILLEGAL FUNDRAISING SCANDAL EXPOSED
An undercover investigation has revealed a pro-Trump committee was willing to accept millions of dollars in illegal donations.
Key figures involved with the Great America PAC, an independent committee that actively supports the Republican candidate for president, sought to channel $2 million from a supposed Chinese donor into the campaign, The Telegraph reported on Monday.
This is despite the fact it’s illegal to accept contributions from any foreign national in association with an election, which — judging by the exchanges — the PAC spokespersons were clearly aware of.
The Telegraph’s investigation entailed undercover reporters posing as a Chinese donor who offered the PAC $2 million in donation funds.
The reporters approached both pro-Trump and pro-Clinton fundraisers, but said only the former responded to their initial queries.
The Great America PAC is supported by Trump’s own son, Eric, as well as senior party adviser Rudy Giuliani.
Earlier this month, an undercover reporter spoke to the PAC co-chairman Eric Beach over the phone.
He posed as a Chinese client wishing to donate to the organisation to support Mr Trump’s campaign. He emphasised that he was “not a US national”.
Initially, Mr Beach raised concerns about the donor’s nationality and identity, but he himself suggested the money be put through a 501(c)(4) social welfare organisation in order to bypass legal scrutiny.
The reporter then received an email from a second senior figure at the PAC, Jesse Benton, who proposed channelling the donation through his own company to hide where the millions of dollars had come from.
Under his plan, it would then be passed through two separate 501(c)(4)s — which would not be subject to blanket bans on foreign money — before being donated to the campaign under the radar.
Mr Benton told the undercover reporters the funds would “definitely allow us to spend two million more dollars on digital and television advertising for Trump”, and promised the donor’s generosity would be “whispered into Mr Trump’s ear”.
He proposed the money be paid to his own public affairs firm, Titan Strategies LLC, to hide where the money was coming from.
He also claimed his lawyer had given him the green light to accept the funds.
At a meeting shortly after, he confirmed he would split the funds and direct them separately into two 501(c)(4)s, then donate the money in their name to the Great America PAC.
He even said: “I don’t know if you ever hear journalists wring their hands about ‘dark money’ in politics — they’re talking about 501(c)(4)s.
“There’s no prohibition against what we’re doing, but you could argue that the letter of the law says that it is originating from a foreign source and even though it can legally go into a 501(c)(4) then it shouldn’t be done.”
He also warned that the reporter “shouldn’t put any of this on paper”, suggesting the sum of money be billed as a “large retainer” for consulting work.
In exchange, it was suggested the donor would receive political power and influence if Trump was to become president, with Mr Beach saying the support would be “remembered” if the Republican candidate made it to the White House.
The PAC has since denied acting unethically, with the organisation’s counsel saying it has “never solicited or accepted contributions from a foreign national or entity”, and had acted “appropriate, ethical and legal at all times”.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign told The Telegraph: “We publicly disavowed this group back in April. This is public via Federal Election Commission filings.”
TRUMP’S DONORS PAID FOR HIS BOOKS
Donald Trump used donation money from his supporters to buy nearly $300,000 worth of his own books, then fuelled the royalty profits back into his own businesses while artificially boosting his sales figures.
In a fundraising email sent out on August 2, he offered his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal for a minimum donation of $184, The Huffington Post revealed.
“I’ve signed an out-of-print, hardcover copy of ‘The Art of the Deal’ just for you, because I want you on board with Team Trump!” he wrote.
But the book has never actually gone out-of-print, and is currently still available for purchase from various booksellers — including its publisher, Random House — for as little as $16.99.
According to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee’s Oct. 15 FEC filing, it paid the book’s publisher three sums totalling $289,816 between August 30 and September 22.
The purpose for all three was listed as: “Collateral: Books.”
The Huffington Post believes Trump’s committee could have purchased up to 17,000 copies of the hardcover edition from the publisher, which would generate approximately $70,000 in royalties or more.
This isn’t the first scandal of its type to hit the Trump campaign.
In August this year, The Daily Beast reported Trump had similarly paid Barnes & Noble over $55,000 in donor money, amounting to several thousand copies of his book Crippled America: How To Make America Great Again.
The Trump campaign did not confirm or deny whether the Republican candidate had agreed to forgo royalties for book sales.