Using 'other people's money': Has Trump gone too far?

Mr Trump (left) had in 2014 used US$10,000 of his charity foundation's money to pay for a portrait of himself by artist Havi Schanz (right) at a charity fund-raiser. This is one of four cases highlighted in a Washington Post report in which he may ha
Mr Trump had in 2014 used US$10,000 of his charity foundation's money to pay for a portrait of himself by artist Havi Schanz at a charity fund-raiser. This is one of four cases highlighted in a Washington Post report in which he may have violated laws against self-dealing.PHOTO PROVIDED BY HAVI SCHANZ

WASHINGTON • Billionaire Donald Trump has talked about the utility of using "other people's money", an ill-timed comment that came just hours after The Washington Post reported that he used more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle business lawsuits.

The Donald J. Trump Foundation has been funded in recent years almost entirely by other people's money. Its tax records show no donations from Mr Trump since 2009.

The Republican presidential nominee was speaking on Tuesday in the context of getting foreign nations to pay for Syrian safe zones.

"We're going to get the Gulf states to pay for safe zones. We'll lead the project like - it's called OPM. I do that all the time in business. It's called other people's money," Mr Trump said at a rally in North Carolina. He then repeated: "OPM: other people's money."

The comments could come back to haunt him. The Post reported on Tuesday that Mr Trump spent US$258,000 (S$350,000) from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved his for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

Those cases were among four newly documented expenditures in which Mr Trump may have violated laws against "self-dealing" - which prohibit non-profit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.

In one case from 2007, Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club faced US$120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Florida, resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole. In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines - if Mr Trump's club made a US$100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Mr Trump sent a cheque from the Trump Foundation.

In 2013, Mr Trump used US$5,000 from the foundation to buy advertisements touting his chain of hotels in programmes for three events organised by a District of Columbia preservation group.

And in 2014, he spent US$10,000 of the foundation's money for a portrait of himself by Miami Beach- based artist Havi Schanz, bought at a charity fund-raiser.

"I've never encountered anything so brazen," said Mr Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm. "If he's using other people's money - run through his foundation - to satisfy his personal obligations, then that's about as blatant an example of self-dealing as I've seen in a while."

The Trump campaign released a statement late on Tuesday that said the Post's story was "peppered with inaccuracies and omissions", though it cited none, and has still not responded to requests for comment.

Ms Christina Reynolds, a spokesman for the campaign of Mr Trump's White House rival Hillary Clinton, said in a statement: "Once again, Trump has proven himself a fraud who believes the rules don't apply to him... It's past time for him to release his tax returns to show whether his tax issues extend to his own personal finances."

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Using 'other people's money': Has Trump gone too far?'. Print Edition | Subscribe