Politicians raising funds for charitable causes is nothing new and not an issue, lawyers for the Donald J. Trump Foundation argued in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday.
Maybe so. But certainly not the way Donald Trump did it, replied the New York Attorney General’s office, which is suing Trump and his family charity for alleged self-dealing.
The back-and-forth over the nature of Trump’s fundraising was one of the core threads running through the hearing today in Manhattan Supreme Court, where the Trump Foundation was pushing to have the case thrown out.
The radiator was working overtime in the stifling second-story room, but the windows had to be kept closed because of construction on the street outside. Reporters, lawyers, and onlookers crowded together on leather-topped benches and clustered on the window sills to observe the proceedings.
Alan Futerfas, a longtime attorney for the Trumps, argued in a long opening statement that the foundation’s conduct was perfectly normal and that “every penny” they raised went to charitable causes. After all, Futerfas said, politicians host the annual Al Smith dinner raising money for Catholic charities.
“Candidate can raise money,” Futerfas said. “Candidates go out and they say, ‘I’m here supporting this charity. The publicity inherent to that is absolutely proper.”
Judge Saliann Scarpulla intervened multiple times to point out that candidates do not typically do this at events promoting their own campaigns, as Trump did at an Iowa event before the 2016 Iowa caucuses. The Trump campaign urged donors to give money to his foundation, which would then be passed along to veterans’ organizations.
Candidates can raise money for charity, Scarpulla said, but “their campaigns are not directing where the money goes. That’s a completely different situation.”
Trump Organization officials and Trump campaign staffers exchanged emails dictating which organizations would accept the funds and how much each would get. The foundation was not involved in those decisions.
The campaign is saying “you need to get this voter group, so let’s send some money to them,” as Scarpulla put it.
Futerfas occasionally laughed, conceding she had a point. But he proposed that it was “refreshing” that Trump held this vets’ fundraiser rather than a typical campaign event.
Yael Fuchs of the attorney general’s office was more cutting in her assessment of the Trump team’s arguments.
They’re “completely conflating the identity of the foundation with the identify of the campaign,” Fuchs said.
“The timing and manner of distribution” of the $2.8 million in proceeds raised at the Iowa event “was also controlled and directed by the campaign for the political benefit of Mr. Trump,” she said, noting that Trump held “five political rallies” where he displayed “this big check from the Trump Foundation.”
That’s not what happens at the Al Smith dinner, or when Mitt Romney raised money for the Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, Fuchs argued.
“The money went directly to those causes,” she said. It was not distributed “based on the demographics of the recipients for my political benefit.”
Romney “didn’t call up the Red Cross and say please send vans to some neighborhoods in Staten Island” because he wanted votes there, Fuchs said.