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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Published with permission from Media Matters for America.

Adding to a cavalcade of campaign condemnations, a string of major newspaper editorial boards in recent weeks stepped forward to announce that, in the name of avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Bill and Hillary Clinton needed to shut down their successful Clinton Foundation.

Conceding that recent news reports hadn’t proven any actual wrongdoing or lawbreaking with the foundation and its connection the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state, editorials from Washington PostBoston Globe, and USA Today, among others, were nonetheless adamant: Shut it down.

Columnists at SlateNew York and The Wall Street Journal also jumped in, as did an array of TV talkers anxious to add their voices to the media choir demanding a global charity be shut down because the optics didn’t look quite right. And several outlets insisted that waiting until after the election for foundation action wasn’t “good enough.”

Everyone, it seemed, was in heated agreement.

  • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (Boston Globe)
  • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.”  (USA Today)
  • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (Washington Post)

On and on the editorials went, patiently explaining to Clinton what she needed to do to eliminate budding concerns within the Beltway press; how she had to shutter her landmark charity in order to please the optics police.

Reading the proclamations, it was clear to readers that even the appearance of impropriety when it comes to politicians and charitable foundations must be met with swift, pro-active and even drastic action.

So what explains the deafening editorial board silence about the Donald J. Trump Foundation in the wake of the shocking news report that in 2013 it sent an illegal $25,000 donation to a political group supporting Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi? At a time, her office was considering opening a fraud investigation into Trump University and widespread allegations the company had cheated students. After the group supporting Bondi received the large Trump check, which she reportedly personally solicited, her office announced it wasn’t going to investigate Trump University.

Where’s the collective demand that the Trump Foundation be shut down because of conflicts?

Not only does the payoff reek of a quid pro quo arrangement, but the generous Foundation donation was also against the law because as a registered non-profit organization, the Trump Foundation isn’t allowed to make political contributions. It appears the Foundation may have taken steps to cover up the donation by by listing the recipient of the funds as a Kansas-based charity in tax forms, according to the Washington Post report. After the $25,000 check was brought to light earlier this year, Trump’s organization paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

Given the hyper attention paid to the Clinton Foundation, and the relentless media search for wrongdoing, the Trump revelations are astounding: They seem to represent precisely the type of naked misdeed the press has been trying to uncover with regards to Clinton. But instead, the foundation’s wrongdoing is attached to the Republican nominee and the campaign press reaction has been muted, to say the least.

On the Sunday morning talk shows this week, the story was occasionally referenced by guests, but CBS’s Face The Nation host John Dickerson was the only host to bring up the Trump/Bondi controversy.

Meanwhile, according to a search of CNN transcripts via Nexis, “Trump Foundation” was mentioned in one on-air report on the all-news channel between Monday, August 29, through Monday, September 5. By contrast, “Clinton Foundation” was mentioned in dozens of CNN reports during that same time period.

Keep in mind, the constant media churning about Clinton “optics” revolve around a global charity that represents a textbook example of how to build a modern-day foundation for giving. “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for president, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation,” Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch recently told CNN. (The foundation receives exceptional marks from watchdog organizations.)

The Clinton Foundation’s sterling reputation has now been tarnished, in part because the press has decided to go all in with the GOP’s smear campaign against the charity. It’s decided to overhype trivial revelations about Foundation contacts and meetings that took place years ago.

But when the Trump Foundation is found to have illegally donated to a state attorney general who was contemplating fraud charges against a Trump company? Suddenly the referees on newspaper editorial boards fall silent.

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stands on stage during a campaign town hall meeting in Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S., September 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar