Donald Trump ignored all [the relevant legal] distinctions, and Thursday's complaint has countless examples, from both business and politics. In January 2016, the Trump Foundation handed over some $2.82 million directly to Trump campaign staff, for them to disburse as they saw fit; those donations were specifically targeted to states with upcoming primaries where Trump was running as a candidate... the money had been donated by the public for veterans; it was not even Trump's personal money. People thought they were donating to veterans, but really that money went to Trump campaign stunts.

That example isn't murky at all; it's illegal. Charitable foundations are not allowed to engage in political activities, period. But in Trump's mind, the Trump Foundation was never really a charitable foundation, created for acts of selfless generosity. Instead, it was little more than a money-laundering machine: Donors with their own ulterior motives could give tax-deductible donations to the foundation, and then in turn the foundation would be used whenever Trump wanted to funnel money to a nonprofit.


The New York attorney general's 41-page complaint is detailed and compelling: The Trump Foundation was a Trump Organization slush fund; it wasn't a genuinely charitable endeavor. Most foundations are much more careful to have proper board oversight and to comply with all applicable nonprofit law. After all, if you're rich enough to set up a foundation, you're rich enough to set it up properly.

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