An organization that’s part of the attack dog network created by Hillary Clinton ally David Brock accused Donald Trump’s charitable foundation of breaking tax laws in a complaint sent to the Internal Revenue Service.
American Democracy Legal Fund, set up in 2014 “to hold Republicans accountable,” said in its complaint that Trump has made his foundation a political tool by mingling its work with his campaign. Charities set up under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, like the Donald J. Trump Foundation, are barred from partisan political activity.
ADLF’s complaint, sent Thursday, is another sign of the gap in campaign and support organizations between Trump, the first-time politician who self-financed much of his primary campaign, and Clinton, who has a vast network of allies taking aim at the billionaire developer. And while the organization has been dismissed as a complaint mill by many of its targets, it can still cause trouble for Trump.
“The best thing he could do is cut ties to the charity while running for president,” said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government ethics group.
ADLF’s complaint focuses on a press conference Trump gave at Trump Tower in New York to rebut reporting on his charitable contributions to veterans groups. It also makes reference to a January event when Trump skipped a Republican debate and used his foundation to raise money for those groups in a televised event that prominently featured his campaign logo.
“Donald Trump can talk about the charity during the campaign, the same way Hillary Clinton does,” Noble said. “But raising the money for the charity is much more problematic.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not the first time an organization in Brock’s network has gone after the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an IRS complaint against it in March for making a contribution to a political action committee, which Trump’s campaign blamed on a clerical error. And Media Matters for America, a nonprofit Brock founded to combat what it deems conservative bias in journalism, has criticized media outlets for having a “charity double standard” for Trump and Clinton.
Since being launched in 2014, ADLF has filed 89 complaints with the IRS, the Federal Election Commission and others seeking investigations of hundreds of Republican candidates and organizations over a variety of alleged violations. Presidential candidates -- including Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders -- and the groups supporting them faced 38 complaints. Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Right to Rise USA, the super-PAC that supported him, was targeted 10 times, mostly when early polls put him atop of the Republican field.
"ADLF abuses the campaign finance system by filing frivolous complaints by press release," Charles Spies, the general consul for Right to Rise, said. “For the candidates and groups being attacked, the adverse publicity can chill donors from giving to the campaign.”
The group’s own finances are murky. ADLF has raised a total of $75,000, with two-thirds coming from American Bridge, a super-PAC founded by Brock, and the rest from the National Education Association. It's spent about $64,000 of that total, of which just $33,000 went to paying for personnel. Though the group’s chief activity is alleging violations of complex tax and election law, Brad Woodhouse, ADLF’s president and only employee, is not an attorney.
Most of the complaints it's made to the FEC are still pending, but five that have been resolved all were dismissed.
Clinton raised $240 million through the end of May, according to her campaign, plus another $62 million for the Democratic National Committee and state parties. Priorities USA, the main super-PAC supporting her, says it has commitments for $147 million. By contrast, Trump had raised $57.7 million for his campaign through the end of April, FEC records show. Though supporters have formed super-PACs to back Trump, they have raised only $3.3 million. And there is no counterpart to Brock or his network of groups in Trump's corner.