N.Y. attorney general probes Trump nonprofit, turns a blind eye to Clinton Foundation

Donald Trump pointing
Trump has yet to settle qualms regarding his foundation and University. (Photo credit: Ninian Reid/Flickr)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, just confirmed his investigation into the Trump Foundation for possibly violating New York law governing nonprofits. New revelations on Trump’s relationship with Florida GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi recently thrust the foundation into the spotlight, spawning greater scrutiny.

But there is a glaring omission in Schneiderman’s watchdog agenda: the Clinton Foundation.

Schneiderman’s suspect timing

As Reuters notes, Schneiderman’s office sent the Trump Foundation a letter earlier this year regarding their investigation, which focused on the $25,000 donation to And Justice For All, a political committee affiliated with Bondi’s re-election campaign. It is illegal for a charitable organization such as the Trump Foundation to contribute to a political organization.

Although Schneiderman’s office has been investigating Trump’s charity and Trump University for months, Schneiderman’s recent media tour touting the inquiry raises eyebrows.

So far, only an unnamed source has given specifics, telling Politico that the attorney general’s office “has opened an inquiry into the Trump Foundation based on troubling transactions that have recently come to light.”

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, was surprised by the timing of Schneiderman’s investigation.

“It politicizes what should be a law enforcement matter,” said McGehee. “There can be some real downsides as it makes people wonder if there’s a political motivation. Tradition in this country is that [attorneys general] are not political, but they’re elected. They’re political creatures by nature.”

Schneiderman thinks differently.

“This is not political,” Schneiderman said in an interview with CBS This Morning. “If I’m a traffic cop, but I’m a Democrat, if [Trump] speeds by me, I have to give him a ticket.”

Schneiderman sued Trump University earlier this summer and called it a “scheme to fleece thousands of people all over America out of millions of dollars.”

Eric Schneiderman smiling
N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (Photo credit: Kelly Campbell/Wikipedia)

“We’ve inquired into it,” Schneiderman told CNN’s Jake Tapper, referring to the Trump Foundation. “My interest in this issue really is in my capacity as regulator of nonprofits in New York state, and we have been concerned that the Trump Foundation may have engaged in some impropriety from that point of view.”

However, if Schneiderman is a traffic cop, he is standing idly by as the Clinton Foundation speeds past him, without so much as giving them a citation.

Turning a blind eye?

Scripps News found that the Clinton Foundation accepted $225 million in government donations between 2010 and 2014 — a significant discrepancy between what Clinton’s Health Access Initiative (CHAI) told New York state and what it told the IRS.

According to Scripps, “That year, CHAI reported only $242,099 in ‘Total Government Contributions’ to New York regulators, and that number included only domestic grants. But for the same time period in 2010 it told the IRS it received $26,740,319 in foreign and domestic government grants.”

Schneiderman is also a Democrat who serves on Clinton’s leadership council in New York state. He hosted a fundraiser for her in June, and in 2015, Schneiderman gave the Clinton campaign $2,700, the maximum personal contribution allowed under federal law.

“It’s a political judgment question,” said McGehee. “Schneiderman has political authority but the expectation is that the attorneys general will ensure the law is enforced above politics. That’s been the tradition in this country and seeing this brings that tradition into question.”

The Trump Foundation deserves as much scrutiny as the candidate himself; the Clinton Foundation does as well.

Foreign funding

While not required by federal law, New York state has strict requirements for disclosure. Charities must disclose the name of each agency and the amount of each contribution received from government agencies each year.

Scripps News reported that Schneiderman “has the power to force the Clinton Foundation and the CHAI to publicly disclose” gifts from foreign governments. But he hasn’t enforced the existing rules so — he’s just vowed to clarify them.

John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s executive director, told Scripps that the Clinton Foundation should follow the clearly laid out disclosure rules. “It appears as though the Clinton Health Access Initiative is attempting to disclose less than the law requires, and to deflect blame onto the attorney general’s office as though financial disclosure requirements are individually negotiated on a by-request basis,” he said.

No other nonprofit in New York, Schneiderman said, had to “disclose contributions of foreign governments. To single out the Clinton Foundation would be grossly unfair,” despite the law requiring otherwise.

Wonderlich disagrees.

“Even if there have been other organizations that failed to disclose their foreign donors, that’s not an excuse for the Clinton Foundation to not disclose their foreign donors, and it’s not an excuse for Schneiderman’s office to fail to enforce the law,” Wonderlich said.

While Wonderlich advocates for following the letter of the law, McGehee thinks both investigations run the risk of politicking.

“He shouldn’t be investigating either Trump or Clinton,” said McGehee. “It’s not the time for either. We’re now in the silly season. He shouldn’t be engaging in any of these investigations at this moment.”

Schneiderman should have fully addressed the Clinton concerns at the time of the disclosure filings, which would have dated back to 2010. Without enforcement, the public will stay in the dark about foreign entities giving money to not just the Clinton Foundation, but any charity. These opaque practices don’t need clarification, they need sunlight – whatever season it happens to be.