On Thursday, November 7, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered President Trump to pay $2 million in damages to various charities for using funds from his own charitable foundation to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign. The ruling follows acknowledgment from Trump that he had misused charity funds.
Allegations against the Trump foundation
The fine relates to a lawsuit filed against Trump by the New York Attorney General last year. In it, the president and his family stand accused of using the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s funds for business and presidential campaign purposes.
The lawsuit argued that Trump broke campaign finance laws by using the tax-exempt status of the Donald J Trump Foundation “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
There was also “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more,” according to the lawsuit.
The New York Times reports that the settlement was finalized in October and included several admissions from Trump. A statement released by the Attorney General of New York said that Trump “admits to personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation.”
Trump acknowledged that he allowed his campaign staff to coordinate with the Trump Foundation by holding a fundraiser for veterans in Iowa in January 2016. The foundation raised $2.8 million at the event.
Trump’s foundation “ceded control over the charitable funds it raised to senior Trump campaign staff, who dictated how the foundation would disburse those proceeds, directing the timing, amounts, and recipients of the grants.”
Trump acknowledged in the court papers that the fundraiser was a campaign event. Justice Saliann Scarpulla, the judge presiding over the case, said Trump “breached his fiduciary duty” by using the fundraiser to benefit his presidential campaign.
The Trump campaign held the Iowa veterans fundraiser after Trump skipped a Republican Party debate that was taking place on the same night.
Other violations that Trump admitted include the use of $10 000 in foundation funds to pay for a 6ft portrait of himself. In addition, the charity spent $11 525 on sports memorabilia and champagne at a charity gala.
Charity funds were also used to settle legal disputes. Trump used $100 000 in foundation money to settle a case over an 80ft flagpole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, the foundation paid $158 000 to resolve a lawsuit over a prize for a hole-in-one contest at a Trump-owned golf course. Trump had previously said he would not settle the case.
The outcome of the ruling
The $1.78m in remaining Trump Foundation assets, along with the $2 million in damages, will be divided equally among eight non-profit organizations that have no ties to Trump. These charities include Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of National Capital Area, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The judge also ruled that Trump must restrict his involvement with charitable organizations in the future. The president accepted this ruling.
Because the eldest Trump children, Don Jr, Ivanka, and Eric, were members of the foundation’s board, the judge ruled that they must undergo mandatory training on the duties of those who run charities. The court papers also revealed that the foundation’s board hadn’t met to discuss the charity’s expenditure in two decades.
Attorney General Letitia James had been seeking $2.8 million in restitution as well as a ban on the Trump family serving on the board of any not-for-profit organization. However, these requests were rejected.
Reaction to the ruling
New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, said the settlement was a “major victory in our efforts to protect charitable assets and hold accountable those who would abuse charities for personal gain.”
She added: “No one is above the law – not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the president of the United States.”
Despite acknowledging he misused charitable funds, the president said that the attorney general had mischaracterized the settlement for “political purposes.”
The president further derided the ruling by releasing a statement on Twitter. In it, he said “I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give major money to charity ($19m), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State.”
Other investigations involving Trump
Trump faces several other legal issues alongside the case of the misuse of charitable funds.
The New York Times also reported that “Trump and his team are waging simultaneous legal battles on a wide array of fronts, facing perhaps more significant challenges with more consequences to his presidency than any modern occupant of the Oval Office has confronted at one time.”
There are currently thirty ongoing investigations into Trump. This includes twelve congressional investigations, ten federal criminal investigations, and eight state and local investigations.
Trump also faces investigations into the Ukraine Scandal, the concealment of hush money, and the abuse of the White House security clearance process.