The Donald J. Trump Foundation appears to have violated its tax-exempt status by participating in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and by advocating for his nomination and election, according to an IRS complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The Trump Foundation began acting as a prop for the campaign with a January veterans’ charity event the Trump campaign held to compete with a GOP debate. Trump campaign employees were directly involved in selecting and screening at least some of the groups to receive donations, asking those groups whether they would appear at a Trump campaign event and receive a donation from the Trump Foundation.
At numerous campaign rallies, Trump himself handed out ceremonial checks from the Trump Foundation with the words “Make America Great Again!” printed on them to charity representatives. The IRS bans groups like the Trump foundation from activity that “explicitly advocates the election or defeat of an individual to public office.” The Federal Election Commission (FEC) defines “expressly advocating” the election or defeat of a candidate to include “communications of campaign slogan(s)” which “can have no other reasonable meaning than to urge the election or defeat of a candidate.” “Make America Great Again” is clearly recognizable as the Trump campaign’s slogan, most often seen on hats worn by Trump and his supporters.
“The IRS is clear that a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation cannot engage in political activity,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Yet time and time again, the Trump Foundation appears to have been used to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
The Liberty House charity was offered a check to appear at a campaign rally in New Hampshire. Liberty House did not attend the rally on the advice of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office. Instead, Trump handed a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation that said “Make America Great Again!” to State Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Trump campaign advisor, on Liberty House’s behalf. Liberty House never received a donation from the Trump Foundation, instead getting a donation from the foundation of one of Trump’s personal friends, meaning the ceremonial check from the Trump Foundation was nothing more than a campaign prop.
“The Trump Foundation appears to be acting as an extension of the Trump campaign,” Bookbinder said. “Particularly given the Trump Foundation’s history of inappropriate political activity, the IRS must investigate.”
This is the second IRS complaint CREW has filed against the Trump Foundation. In March, CREW filed a complaint relating to a $25,000 donation the Foundation illegally gave a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at a time when it was reported her office was looking into Trump University.