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Opinion

Editorials of The Times

Posted June 14, 2018 11:35 p.m. EDT

Donald Trump’s Charity Begins, and Ends, at Home

It’s long been clear that Donald Trump’s family foundation, the Trump Foundation, is not a generous and ethical charity, but just another of his grifts. He branded it the way he brands his buildings, using his name to generate income that he then has used largely for his own benefit. In 2016, The Washington Post reported that many of Trump’s boasts about his charitable giving could not be verified. Those that could be were often gifts to himself.

For instance, the largest reported donation the foundation has made — $264,631 — was used to refurbish the fountain in front of Trump’s Plaza Hotel in New York. He has not given any of his own supposed fortune to the foundation since 2008, relying instead on the beneficence of others, whether pro-wrestling mavens or simply Americans who thought they were supporting veterans. And yet the Trump Foundation was repeatedly compared with the Clinton Foundation, which, despite justifiable concern about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s dual roles as philanthropic boosters and politicians, is a credible charitable enterprise that focuses on global health and has saved perhaps millions of lives.

A lawsuit filed by the New York state attorney general on Thursday morning confirms many of these facts and adds a few new ones, alleging that the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.

In precise and damning detail, the suit catalogs Trump’s repeated violation of both state and federal laws by tapping the foundation’s funds for his own personal purposes, including paying out legal settlements, making political contributions and purchasing a portrait of himself to hang in one of his golf clubs.

The Trump Foundation is “an empty shell,” the suit says, with no employees and no oversight by its board of directors, which has not met for nearly 20 years. This has allowed Trump to run it “according to his whim, rather than the law.”

A couple of examples: In 2013, the foundation gave $25,000 to “And Justice for All," a political organization supporting the re-election of Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi. But on its federal tax form, the foundation claimed that it did not contribute money to any political campaign, and that it had donated $25,000 to a Kansas-based nonprofit, Justice for All, even though it had not. The foundation later attributed the false report to an accounting error.

Days before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Trump held a fundraiser on behalf of military veterans, raising about $5.6 million, half of which went directly to his foundation. The money was then managed not by philanthropists but by top Trump campaign staff members, who handed it out to veterans’ organizations across Iowa just before the caucus — converting the donations into illegal campaign contributions.

“This is not how private foundations should function,” New York’s attorney general, Barbara Underwood, said in a statement about the suit. That’s the understatement of the day.

Trump lashed out at the lawsuit on Twitter, attacking “sleazy New York Democrats” and, in particular, Eric Schneiderman, the former state attorney general who aggressively pursued Trump but who resigned last month following reports he had physically abused several women. Unfortunately for Trump, the suit was brought by Schneiderman’s replacement, Underwood, who is not a politician but a career prosecutor with sterling credentials. Underwood’s office has asked the court to order the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution and to bar Trump from serving as a director, officer or trustee of any nonprofit for 10 years. The lawsuit also seeks to bar for one year Trump’s three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric, from the boards of nonprofits based in New York or that operate in New York.

That’s a start. But Underwood only has jurisdiction to file lawsuits in cases involving charities like the Trump Foundation. She cannot bring criminal charges against them for, say, violating campaign finance laws. So she also sent lengthy referral letters to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, detailing extensive conduct that could, and clearly should, trigger further investigation. In other words, Trump, who is already dealing with multiple federal inquiries into his campaign’s involvement with Russian efforts to swing the 2016 election as well as into possible crimes by his personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, may soon find himself in even deeper trouble.

Though they were fantasies in so many other ways, most of Donald Trump’s scams — from bankrupt casinos to phony universities — never really pretended to be in the public interest. But his foundation, like his presidency, does. And like everything else with the Trump name slapped on it, neither is remotely what it purports to be.

Adem Bunkeddeko in New York's 9th District

Longtime Democratic members of Congress in New York City are facing something new this year: healthy competition, giving the party’s voters real choices in New York’s June 26 primary.

In the 14th Congressional District, which spans Queens and the Bronx, Rep. Joseph Crowley is defending his seat against an insurgent campaign from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former campaign organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Crowley, the Queens Democratic leader, has ambitions of succeeding Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader that could redound to the city’s benefit. But Ocasio-Cortez, 28, has won an impressive measure of support, casting herself as a grass-roots alternative to an incumbent with deep sway in local politics.

In the 16th Congressional District in the Bronx and Westchester County, Rep. Eliot Engel is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Jonathan Lewis, a Scarsdale businessman who co-founded a company that invested in municipal bonds.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, is also locked in a tough battle in the 12th Congressional District, which covers Manhattan’s East Side and parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Maloney’s opponent, Suraj Patel, president of his family’s Indiana-based hotel management company, has raised just over $1 million, only slightly short of Maloney’s roughly $1.4 million.

In heavily Democratic New York, primary races are often more important than the general election. But the scheduling of this month’s primaries, on the last day of school, and nearly three months before the more widely publicized primaries for governor and other statewide offices, seems intended to depress turnout and protect incumbents. Increased competition, though, could help stir interest in the races and make these Democratic races more democratic.

One district where change would be welcome is the 9th Congressional District, in the heart of Brooklyn. The challenger is an energetic young community organizer named Adem Bunkeddeko, who is running against Rep. Yvette Clarke. We endorse Bunkeddeko in the June primary.

Bunkeddeko faces a tough race. Clarke has represented the district for more than a decade.

Bunkeddeko’s resume is impressive, and his biography is inspiring. The son of Ugandan war refugees, Bunkeddeko, 30, grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens with three of his siblings before graduating from Haverford College and Harvard Business School. He managed congressional campaigns for the Democratic Party in Arkansas and helped low-income families as an organizer in Brooklyn. He also worked at New York’s Empire State Development Corp., the business arm of state government — and a potent political training ground.

Bunkeddeko has said he wants to focus on bringing federal housing dollars back to Brooklyn, of critical importance to a district that includes neighborhoods from Park Slope to Crown Heights where rents have soared, putting enormous pressure on poor and middle-class New Yorkers. One of his proposals — to fight for Mitchell-Lama-style developments that could include tens of thousands of units of affordable housing — may be a difficult sell in Washington. But that kind of big thinking is refreshing, and sorely needed in Congress. And he has promised to broaden constituent services to offer much-needed legal services to immigrants and other residents.

When asked about her most significant legislative accomplishments, Clarke noted her role along with other Democrats in passing the Affordable Care Act. She also listed her work helping secure funding to support financially struggling hospitals in central Brooklyn. She added that she has legislation before Congress now that would require state Medicaid programs to report data to the federal government on opioid abuse. It’s a measure, she says, that would help the country find trends and fight the epidemic. Another of her bills, introduced with two other members of the New York congressional delegation this year, would provide funding for public housing and rental assistance to help prevent foreclosures.

Yet major legislative accomplishments have been regrettably far between in her tenure in Congress. Residents of Brownsville, Park Slope, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, Sheepshead Bay and Crown Heights deserve a more energetic advocate in Washington.

If they vote for Bunkeddeko on June 26, they will get one — and give this promising newcomer a chance.

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