A WhoWhatWhy investigation has found that Donald Trump continues to solicit donations from foreigners in defiance of US law — two weeks after he was publicly called out for this.
Late last month, two campaign finance watchdogs — Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center — filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the Trump campaign for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act’s ban on soliciting donations from non-US citizens.
Specifically, the campaign sent fundraising emails to non-Americans in several foreign countries, including Australian, Scottish and Icelandic lawmakers. The complaint received considerable media attention, most notably from The Washington Post.
While the campaign of a presidential candidate should be expected to know the law and vet its email lists, Trump could conceivably have gotten away with the claim that contacting foreign lawmakers was an honest mistake. In that case, the FEC might merely deem the behavior to be “reckless.” However, if the campaign was aware of the violation, then it acted illegally.
“Nothing makes it legal to solicit funds from a foreign national simply because the solicitation was inadvertent,”Bradley Smith, Professor of Law at Capital University Law School, told WhoWhatWhy. “However, violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act are criminal only if the solicitation was knowing.”
A WhoWhatWhy investigation has shown that appears to be the case here.
The FEC must inform the campaign of a complaint within five business days. That means that Trump’s team knew no later than July 7 that it had improperly solicited funds from non-Americans.
However, WhoWhatWhy has found that it continued to send fundraising emails to foreigners as recently as July 12.
WhoWhatWhy has been in contact with five foreign lawmakers, who have received at least seven different solicitations for contributions since the complaint was filed.
“If they continue to do it after being informed, that would be an even more egregious violation,” Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told WhoWhatWhy. He noted that continued solicitations are further evidence of the Trump campaign’s recklessness and raises the likelihood that it knowingly violated the law.
Fischer added that the information uncovered by WhoWhatWhy could lead the group to take further action.
In fact, it is very likely that the campaign was aware even prior to July 7 that it was violating the law. It certainly should have been.
In addition to the media coverage that the complaint received, Sir Peter Bottomley, one of the British lawmakers the Trump campaign asked for money, responded to a solicitation in June.
“I replied to ask whether it is proper to solicit a donation from a person who is not a US voter, not a US resident, not a US taxpayer and who is a legislator in another jurisdiction,” Bottomley wrote in an email shared with WhoWhatWhy.
The campaign has not responded to his concerns, nor to our requests for information.
“Burying your head in the sand is not a defense — to not know about these scandals as they unfold would represent a total failure of due diligence on behalf of the Trump campaign,” Timothy Kuhner, Associate Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law, told WhoWhatWhy.
Here are some examples of fundraising emails the Trump campaign has sent to non-Americans living abroad since July 7:
July 7 email from Donald Trump to Bob Blackman, an MP in the UK: “Please stand with me today with a $10, $20, $35, $50, $100, or $200 special contribution, or more if you can.”
July 7 email from Brad Parscale, Digital Director for Trump’s campaign, to Gai Brodtmann, an MP in Australia, and Kirsty Blackman, an MP in the UK: “Every dollar that comes through the doors will be yet another nail in the coffin for Crooked Hillary’s campaign and ensure she never sees the inside of the White House ever again.
July 11 email from Donald J. Trump, Jr. to Peter Bottomley, an MP in the UK: “Peter — the clock is ticking. Contribute $3 now to be automatically entered to win a VIP trip to the Republican National Convention.”
July 12 email from Eric Trump to Terri Butler, an MP in Australia: “We must stand with my father in this fight for America’s future. Please stand with my father and our campaign today by making a generous contribution.”
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Statue of Liberty (Jack E. Boucher / Library of Congress) and Donald Trump (Max Goldberg / Flickr – CC BY 2.0)