Did Trump's money kill state probes?

Written by Nisha Behrman and Noah Grolnick, Common Cause interns on June 6, 2016

The media were abuzz last week with reports that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have used campaign donations to influence multiple state attorneys general to drop investigations into his now-defunct Trump University.

The Associated Press, USA Today, and other news outlets reported that former Texas Attorney General and current Gov. Greg Abbott investigated Trump University six years ago but chose ot to file a lawsuit even though his office developed a strong case. Abbott’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign later received a $35,000 donation from Trump.

In Florida, current Attorney General Pam Bondi similarly considered joining in a case against Trump University, but withdrew just days after a political fundraising committee in support of her reelection received a $25,000 donation from Trump.

Those involved dispute suggestions that Trump’s donations deterred these investigations. In any case, three other cases are still being pursued against Trump U in California and New York. These suits revolve around claims by former Trump University students who are accusing the businessman-turned-candidate of making false claims about what they would receive in return for tuition payments as high as $38,500.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, leading one of the suits against Trump, received a $12,500 donation from Trump for his reelection campaign. Nevertheless, he still plans on pursuing the case.

Trump’s contributions to the attorneys general and possible links between the money and closed investigations of Trump University are powerful exhibits in the case for campaign finance reform. Texas has no limits on individual donations to state candidates. And in states like Florida, where such limits exist, donors can evade the regulations and pump big money into campaigns by using “independent” Super PACs.  Until we clamp down on big money and empower small-dollar donors with reforms like those outlined in the Fighting Big Money Agenda, we run the risk that major political donors will be able to contribute their way out of sticky situations.

Office: California Common Cause, Common Cause Florida, Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

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