For months, Donald Trump has gloated about being on the winning end of a political system where elected officials owe their major donors favors. But now Trump is distancing himself from the pay-to-play world as he faces scrutiny over a major donation he made in support of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi as her office was weighing whether to sue Trump University.
Since embarking on his presidential campaign, Trump has boasted about his history of making major contributions to politicians of both parties — contributions he said are part of a “game” that he has been on the “other side all of my life.”
“As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal last year. He alleged at a GOP debate that only he can fix this “broken” system because he knows it so well.
The claim that he was a player on the winning side allowed Trump to defend himself from attacks from his Republican rivals who criticized his donations to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. He also used the idea of buying political influence to brag about his (allegedly) self-funded primary campaign, while throwing it back at his opponents by suggesting that they were in fact the “puppets” of donors who had “control over them.”
That posturing is beginning to haunt the GOP nominee as questions multiply about a $25,000 donation his foundation made to a political group supporting Bondi, who, days before, announced her office would consider joining the New York attorney general in suing Trump University. She ultimately decided not to go forward with the case.
Facing allegations that his donation to the pro-Bondi group was motivated by the threat of an investigation, Trump denied Monday that he spoke to Bondi at all.
“I never spoke to her, first of all. She’s a fine person, beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She’s a fine person. Never spoken to her about it, never,” Trump said Monday. “Many of the attorney generals turned that case down because I’ll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her.”
His contention that he never spoke with Bondi was at odds with the account of one of Bondi’s campaign consultants, who said Bondi personally solicited the donation herself.
Later, on Tuesday, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks told Politico: “His comments were in reference to any discussion about Trump University — not the donation.”
So how does Trump himself view the role and purpose of political contributions? Here’s a look back about what he has said in the past:
1988: “Give to nobody or give to everybody”
“[Y]ou will have two or three friends running for the same office and they literally are all coming to you asking for help, and so it’s a choice, give to nobody or give to everybody,” Trump said in a 1988 testimony to the New York Commission on Government Integrity, according to the Washington Post.
May 14, 2015: The Clintons “kiss my ass” after foundation donations.
Trump denied that his six-figure donation to the Clinton Foundation came with special favors, but he told the Daily Mail that “they do kiss my ass.” He also said that “both” Clintons “absolutely” asked him personally for contributions.
“I’m a businessman and I’ve dealt with every politician, and New York is almost exclusively Democratic,” Trumps said. “I get along with everybody. That’s what the country needs. The country’s in total gridlock. I don’t think it handicaps me politically. It shows I can work with everyone.”
July, 8, 2015: “As a businessman I could have gotten anything from anybody.”
“Everybody loved me. When I called them they always treated me well. And that’s part of the game. And that’s part of what’s wrong with this country,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, when asked about his history of political giving. “Because as a businessman I could have gotten anything from anybody. And that is part of the problem. Lobbyists, donors, special interests.”
Cooper asked him whether he based his donations on principle or who was going to help him politically.
“They all love me. Let’s put it that way. They all loved me. I’m a very, very – I did very nicely in life. And frankly, you give – and it is part of the problem. And I talk about it all the time,” Trump said.
“They won’t necessarily do what’s right for the country. They’ll do what’s right for their special interests, their donor, their lobbyists, et cetera. Not good for the country,” he continued.
July 29, 2015: “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
“As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump said, according to a Wall Street Journal story published in late July last year. “As a businessman, I need that.”
Aug. 6, 2015: “I call them, they are there for me.”
Trump pilloried his GOP primary rivals from the stage of the Fox News debate for taking contributions from him in the past.
“I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.” Trump said. “And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”
Asked what he got for his contributions, he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.”
“You know why? She didn’t have a choice because I gave,” he said.
Sept. 16, 2015: “I understand the game, I’ve been on the other side all of my life.”
At the CNN GOP debate, Trump suggested he could have gotten former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to approve of casino gambling legislation the real estate magnate favored, had he wanted to — a claim Bush denied.
“I’m spending all of my money, I’m not spending — I’m not getting any — I turned down — I turn down so much, I could have right now from special interests and donors, I could have double and triple what he’s got. I’ve turned it down. I turned down last week $5 million from somebody,” Trump said. “So I will tell you I understand the game, I’ve been on the other side all of my life. And they have a lot of control over our politicians. And I don’t say that favorably, and I’m not sure if there’s another system, but I say this. I am not accepting any money from anybody. Nobody has control of me other than the people of this country. I’m going to do the right thing.”
He went on to say that his political contributions to Democrats were out of “my obligation as a businessman to my family, to my company, to my employees, to get along with all politicians.”
Jan. 9, 2016: “When I call, they kiss my ass.”
While blasting his Republican rivals for being “puppets” of big donors like the Koch Brothers, Trump explained his practice of giving big political contributions, including to Democrats.
“I’ve given to everybody, because that was my job. I’ve got to give to them. because when I want something I get it,” Trump said at a campaign stop. “When I call, they kiss my ass. It’s true. They kiss my ass. It’s true.”
Jan. 17, 2016: “Somebody gives them money, not anything wrong, just psychologically, when they go to that person, they’re going to do it.
Trump criticized Clinton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for taking political contributions, while bragging about his own allegedly self-funded primary campaign.
“Ted Cruz, he’s got a lot of people putting big money in, probably maybe Goldman Sachs, we’ll have to ask them. I mean, they have loaned him a million dollars. So, they certainly have control over him,” Trump said.
Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if contributions made politicians more likely to do donors’ bidding, Trump said, “ psychologically, yes.”
“Somebody gives them money, not anything wrong, just psychologically, when they go to that person, they’re going to do it,” Trump said.
March 10, 2016: “Until eight months ago I was on the other side.”
“I’m self-funding my campaign, and the reason is that I’ve been in this business a long time and I was on the other side. Until eight months ago I was on the other side,” Trump said at a CNN GOP debate. “I made massive contributions, large contributions to politicians, both Democrats and Republicans. I was liked by everybody, which is an important thing.”
Trump said he was going to be able to fix the “broken” system because he understood it.
“I’m the one, because I know it so well because I was on both sides of it, I was on the other side all my life and I’ve always made large contributions,” Trump said. “And frankly, I know the system better than anybody else and I’m the only one up here that’s going to be able to fix that system because that system is wrong.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman, last week: “[H]e was part of the broken system, albeit on the other side.”
“He has often acknowledged he was part of the broken system, albeit on the other side, knows it better than anyone and will therefore be able to fix it,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Washington Times for a story about how Trump lobbied for political issues in the past.