Florida AG faces questions about $25,000 Trump donation

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauOctober 18, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- For the second time in more than a month, campaign contributions fueling the re-election efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi are raising questions about the overlap between politics and how Florida's top law enforcement officer performs her duties.

Bondi apologized last month after she persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to delay an execution so she could host a fundraiser at her South Tampa home that ended up raising $140,000.

Now comes criticism of a $25,000 contribution made by one of Donald Trump's foundations to a political committee associated with Bondi. The donation came three days after an Attorney General's office spokeswoman said Bondi was reviewing allegations in a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general against get-rich-quick seminars associated with Trump.

New York's Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit Aug. 25, alleging Trump University and its affiliates were "sham for-profit colleges" that ripped off 5,000 consumers. He's seeking $40 million in restitution for the complainants.

A Sept. 14 Orlando Sentinel story noted Schneiderman's case cited dozens of complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General's Office in 2008, two years before Bondi took office. A spokeswoman for Bondi was quoted as saying the office was reviewing the New York lawsuit.

Three days later, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, based in New York, made a $25,000 contribution to And Justice for All, a political fundraising committee raising money for Bondi's re-election.

Unlike New York, Florida has taken no action against Trump.

Bondi couldn't be reached for comment.

Jenn Meale, a Bondi spokeswoman, suggested no action is necessary because the affected Florida consumers would be compensated if Schneiderman wins that case. But a review of the 22 complaints filed in 2008 show they named the "Trump Institute," an entity not named in the New York suit. Because those are technically different entities, it's unclear how many making those complaints would be covered, then, by the New York suit. Meale said that determination still has yet to be made.

Meale points out since Bondi has been in office, the Attorney General's Office has received only one complaint about the Trump seminars. It was filed in 2011 by Charles Jacobson, who is now 62 and retired in Delray Beach. He says he lost $26,000 in fees to attend a three-day seminar in West Palm Beach.

"I took it because they told us it would make us rich, but it didn't teach me anything," he said.

"Except my bankruptcy."

The contribution was made to a political committee that is technically not part of Bondi's official campaign. Nancy Watkins, treasurer of And Justice for

All, said there was no regret.

"Based on the information at hand, we are comfortable with the propriety of the contribution from the Trump Foundation."

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