New York AG Investigates Trump Foundation

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While the Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton has drawn scrutiny for the international dealings of the Clinton Foundation, her opponent for the White House is mired in his own host of controversies relating to his philanthropic enterprise.

On Tuesday, the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office was opening an inquiry into the The Donald J. Trump Foundation. Schneiderman told CNN:

We’ve inquired into it. We’ve had correspondence with them. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or hold a press conference. But we have been looking into the Trump Foundation to make sure it’s complying with the laws governing charities in New York.

The investigation emerges following a string of reports from the Washington Post that Donald Trump may have used contributions to his namesake foundation for personal expenses. The Republican presidential candidate also received heat on the campaign trail for asserting that his campaign raised $6 million for veterans charities, including $1 million donated by the real estate tycoon himself.

These claims have never been verified.

The Trump Foundation is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this month, the philanthropic entity was fined for a political donation to a group supporting the reelection bid of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. Bondi was tasked with deciding whether or not to pursue fraud charges against the now defunct Trump University. The fake institution of higher education scammed thousands of people through deceitful sales practices designed to prey on people’s financial insecurities.

The Trump campaign has lashed out, calling the New York Attorney General a “partisan hack.” But if the foundation’s own foot print is anything to go by, uncovering further malfeasance would hardly be a big surprise.

Inspiring: 102-Year-Old Partakes in Clinton Nomination

While the DNC got off to a rough start for Democrats – with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders offering protests throughout the first day of proceedings – a number of keynote speeches have buoyed the political party as it moves toward the general election. Michelle Obama gave a stunning and legacy-defining speech, with other well-received speeches presented by Bill Clinton (potentially the first-ever “First Gent”), Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders.

The shift in energy stems partly from the over-looked fact that Democrats officially made history last night with the formal nomination of Hillary Clinton, the first-ever woman to top a party’s ticket for the presidency. This milestone is often lost amidst the vitriol and acrimony of this year’s election, but for women still fighting for gender equality it amounts to a massive victory.

No one felt the weight of this moment more, perhaps, than Jerry Emmett, the 102 year-old Arizona state delegate. The Prescott, Arizona native was born before women had the right to vote, and she remembers the first time her mother voted after the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Emmett – who founded a fan club for Hillary Clinton in Arizona – was selected by Democratic officials to read off their state’s delegate allotment during the floor roll call at the convention. When it came to the Arizona delegation to cast its votes last night, a smiling Emmett announced: “51 votes for the next president of the United States of America, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Watch the moment below:

The viciousness and inflated rhetoric of today’s partisan politics obscure the great emotional weight behind such social progress. For Emmett – and for women across the country – last night was more than a milestone, it was a product of women’s unflagging commitment to the pursuit of equality.

Breakdown of the 2016 DNC and RNC

(Pro- and anti-Trump protesters could clash in Cleveland during the RNC)

Philadelphia and Cleveland are preparing for the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention respectively.

The scale of these events is quite massive. In Philadelphia, more than 50,000 visitors from around the country will gather July 25-28 to watch political and cultural luminaries speak, as well as the Democratic candidate accept the nomination at the Wells Fargo Center – home to the Flyers and the 76ers. Approximately 20,000 individuals from national and international media outlets will be in attendance.

As part of the city’s welcoming preparation, Philadelphia has commissioned and displayed 57 painted donkey statues throughout town.

While some commentators argue for the economic benefits of hosting the convention in terms of national visibility and long-term tourism promotion, there are other cost burdens on the hosting city. National conventions have a long history of attracting large protests. Half of nearly a dozen requests for protest permits have been granted for this year’s DNC, with more unplanned protests expected to pop up around the city.

The 2000 Republican National Convention, which occurred in Philadelphia, culminated in nearly 400 arrests.

Concerns over security and violence this year, however, are even larger for Cleveland, which will host the RNC at the Quicken Loans Arena. Donald Trump – the presumptive Republican nominee – has run perhaps the most contentious and polarizing campaign in modern US history, attracting condemnation for racist and controversial statements while shoring up support among predominately white populations across the country dismayed with the political elite.

Cleveland anticipates 50,000 visitors for the RNC, scheduled for July 18-21. Hate groups, including white nationalist and neo-nazi organizations, as well as the anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church, are among those planning to travel to the RNC.

While organizers point out the safety and successful security perimeters of previous conventions that attracted large protests, this year’s RNC is unique. Left-wing protesters usually predominate at Republican conventions. Authorities anticipate anti- and pro-Trump protestors clashing in the streets, largely because they expect large volumes of right-wing protesters for the first time in recent history.

If the violence of previous Trump rallies is any indication, this mixture of political voices could prove combustible.

Indeed, the Trump campaign has created a safe space for racist nationalists. A racist organization at the center of recent violence in California announced plans to “protect” Trump supporters.

The Tap will cover events at both conventions while they unfold, and will explore the economic, cultural, and political aftermath of both the RNC and the DNC during this contentious political season.

Trump’s Money Claims: Less Than Honest

Donald Trump – the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential bid – lauds himself for his business acumen, a characteristic that has supposedly generated untold riches.

How large that wealth is, however, is still clouded in secrecy, as the Trump campaign insists that it has no intention of releasing Trump’s tax returns – something every candidate in modern history has done.

Critic’s view his bluster as a smokescreen for what may actually be a smaller pot, earned less by Trump’s business smarts and more by the bizarre lifestyle brand he has cultivated.

As reports concerning Trump’s casino empire in Atlantic City emerge, there seems to be a growing body of evidence to prove this assertion.

Trump has bragged that his casinos and assets in the east coast gambling capital – which has been on a long, steep economic decline – triumphed over those of his competitors. Documents indicate otherwise, as Vox has helpfully broken down.

Trump considered financial success the enormous earnings he made, which stemmed largely from personal bonuses and salaries, paid for in part by selling junk bonds and bilking investors and shareholders of earnings. Indeed, his public company, according to Vox, “never turned a profit, leaving behind a trail of losses for shareholders and bondholders, and unpaid bills to contractors and subcontractors.” He may have earned money, but his businesses failed disastrously.

There seems to be a parallel between his suspect dealings in Atlantic City and his supposedly self-financed campaign. As it turns out, much of the funding he put toward his primary campaign was structured as loans to be paid back at a later date – presumably through further fundraising and financial support from the RNC.

Financial support from the Republican establishment – however – may not amount to much. Republican donors are allegedly nervous about supporting a Trump bid for the White House, which has many party officials wringing their hands as Trump continues to insult more demographics and double-down on certifiably racist policy proposals.

Their concerns are not unfounded. Trump’s flagrant bigotry and strong-man demeanor has sparked an exodus of moderate Republicans from the party.

If the GOP and its donors don’t show up for Trump, perhaps the bombastic candidate’s financial gymnastics won’t play out as well for his political campaign as they did for his abysmal casino ventures.

Campaign Finance Reform Would Help Nonprofits

As we discussed in our previous post, there are a number of ways that nonprofits can successfully fundraise during election season. While campaign solicitations inundate emails and people everywhere tire of institutional messaging, nonprofits can still artfully reach their target demographics, raising the money they need to succeed.

But let’s do a thought experiment – what if the competition from political campaigns didn’t exist? What if the more than $1 billion that campaigns and third-party Super PACs have collectively raised so far for election 2016 didn’t go toward 16 months-worth of mudslinging campaign ads, and was instead allocated for other purposes – say, for gifts to charitable organizations?

The U.S. presidential election cycle is unique in the world, where many nations have publicly funded campaigns that do not require enormous fundraising efforts in order for candidates and/or parties to run competitive campaigns. In Britain, nation-wide general elections last three weeks. During the last one, the two primary British parties – Labour and the Tories – collectively spent £25 million, or $37 million. This is a dramatically lower figure than what we see in U.S. general elections, where candidates, parties, and Super PACs have already spent 27 times that amount. And we’re not even to the general election yet!

In the United States, high profile figures across the spectrum have discussed the merits of campaign finance reform. From reining in the influence of dark money to democratizing the level of financial support that average citizens can offer to campaigns, there are a lot of benefits to discuss.

Another big-time benefit? Freeing up money for charitable causes.

Not only do political campaigns distract the public from all the ways that donors can make a difference right now by supporting nonprofits fighting important battles, but it saps available philanthropic dollars by cornering the public’s resources set aside for making donations. With well over $1 billion already poured into election war chests, campaigns and third-party organizations are spending immense sums of money on trying to influence people, when that same money could be used by nonprofits to immediately help people or in some way improve the lives of the U.S. public.

There is certainly a lot at stake in elections, and it would be disingenuous to imply that all politicians raising money and angling for public support aren’t genuinely interested in the Social Good. But, looking out at the world, there are cheaper alternatives, and by pursuing one we as a country we can augment the resource pool for the 1.5 million nonprofits operating inside the United States. The media industry may lose its sports spectacle-esque cash cow, but nonprofit pros would be better equipped to follow through on their important missions.

Nonprofit Election Survival Guide: 5 Tips for Fundraising Pros

(When will it end?!)

The U.S. presidential election cycle is truly unique in the world. Involving an 18-month media frenzy, the contest is unparalleled for its drawn-out drama and immense cost.

So far, candidates have raised $720 million, and Super PACs have amassed $446 million in funding. Campaigns and third-party organizations spend a large portion of this funding on communications. From non-stop emails to seemingly omnipresent campaign spots, the candidates and the groups supporting them are competing aggressively for the public’s attention.

To complicate things for nonprofits, many campaign-related communications solicit money. This can create donor fatigue among a public eager to shut out the nonstop buzz flooding their emails.

There are, however, some steps nonprofits can take this election cycle to improve their chances of edging out their political competitors during election 2016.

1. Step Up Direct Mail – Campaigns are spending more and more on technology-based communications in order to reach a plugged-in public. This has resulted in torrents of email communications that frustrate some and spur others to blacklist institutional messages. Amp up your nonprofit’s direct mail. It’s still the best way to close on small gifts, and it is currently less inundated with political appeals than the email alternative.

2. Offer Reprieve from the Madness – For your nonprofit’s digital communications, consider adding content that may serve as a pleasant distraction from the election hubbub. Humorous videos and other visual media that tie into your mission can be just what an election-fatigued public needs.

3. Interact with Your Constituency – Remind your supporters that your nonprofit is more than a faceless institution. Connect with them on social media platforms, interact with the content they post, and thank them for their continued support. A personal touch can be refreshing stand-out quality during the nonstop slugfest between rival campaigns looking to get ahead.

4. Mind the Passions of Your Constituents – Try to avoids stepping on toes or engaging in needless political advocacy. Accidentally creating the impression of support for this or that candidate can attract negative responses from passionate individuals deeply involved in the ongoing election debates.

5. Start Planning for November Now – While the election cycle may seem interminable, it does actually end. In fact, it ends in November, during peak year-end fundraising time for nonprofits. With an eye toward the conclusion of the 2016 election, be prepared with the best possible year-end fundraising plan in order take optimal advantage of the dissipating communications rivalry from disbanding election campaigns.

Was Trump Foundation’s Political Donation Intentional?

The IRS clearly states that charity organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign.”

A brewing controversy involves one of today’s most recognizable names potentially breaking this cardinal rule. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) requested that the IRS undertake an investigation into a gift made by the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

If CREW’s hunch is correct, Donald Trump’s namesake foundation may have made a colossal misstep by gifting $25,000 to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. The donation arrived in the same week that Bondi began investigating charges of fraud at Trump University – the now defunct educational enterprise of Trump and current hot topic of debate in the Republican presidential race. Trump’s opponents have pointed to the failed endeavor as an emblematic case of the candidate’s disastrous business record and potentially fraudulent practices.

Trump has chalked up the donation as a clerical error, in which Bondi’s political support organization – And Justice For All – received a check that was designated for a Utah-based nonprofit of the same name. To further complicate the situation, the gift was listed as going to yet another organization – a Kansas-based pro-life nonprofit called Justice for All – in the Trump Foundation’s 990.

The coincide, however, is quite staggering. Bondi ultimately dropped the investigation into Trump University, and has since endorsed the real-estate mogul and front-runner for the Republican presidential candidacy.

CREW Communications Director Jordan Libowitz remarked that “there’s so much going on here that the IRS really needs to investigate and find out where the truth was.”

Key Elements Group will cover the developments relating to Donald Trump and the political donation his foundation made as CREW continues to lobby for an investigation and the presidential race brings more candidate controversies to the national discourse.

Indictment: Rep. Chaka Fattah Exploited Charities

Chaka Fattah – the longtime congressional representative for Pennsylvania’s 2nd district – was indicted this week on racketeering charges, potentially paving the way for a long prison sentence if found guilty.

Rep. Fattah purportedly used funding from his network of charitable nonprofits to pay off loans from his failed 2007 mayoral bid in Philadelphia. Other charges include using federal grants designated for his charities to line the pockets of Fattah family and political allies, as well as to pay off student loan debts for his son, Chaka Fattah, Jr.

Following the indictment, Rep. Fattah dismissed the charges as politically charged. The evidence against him – however – seems extensive, and paints a tragic portrait of how nonprofit organizations can fit into a nexus of greed, manipulation, and political power.

The FBI probe into the representative’s nefarious dealings have brought a number of potential infractions to light: Rep. Fattah engaged in a scheme to attract millions of dollars in federal grant monies to a scam charity, allegedly by using his privileged position on the House Appropriations Committee; he misused grant monies by doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees to closely-aligned friends and family; a former staffer and head of a Fattah-aligned scholarship charity directed $600,000 in federal money to pay off campaign debt following a failed mayoral bid; additionally, close political allies apparently funneled more than $22,000 of campaign funding to Drexel University and Sallie Mae in order to pay off Chaka, Jr.’s student debt.

The younger Fattah faces his own host of legal issues, as a trial is set to begin this fall over alleged bank fraud and scam consulting enterprises.

Whatever the result of the indictment and resultant trial, these allegations are an unfortunate blow to the Philadelphia nonprofit sector. Corruption and philanthropy for poor bed fellows, and any consequent distrust of the region’s predominately upstanding nonprofit professionals is a sad outcome of one political clique’s abuse of power.

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