TexplainerMore in this series
Hey, Texplainer: In the presidential race, I'm hearing a lot about Florida's treatment of Trump University, particularly related to a donation Trump gave the state's attorney general at the time. Didn't Texas also have some problems with the school, and didn't Trump also make a controversial donation here? Are the two cases the same?
Texas' 2010 investigation into Trump University is getting renewed attention as Democrats intensify their focus on how another state — Florida — handled the beleaguered school tied to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the cases, while both fraught with controversy, have significant differences.
Trump, who bragged during the primaries about controlling politicians through financial support, is facing greater scrutiny for a 2013 contribution from his foundation to a political group working to re-elect Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The $25,000 donation came in just days after Bondi's office said it was considering joining a New York-led investigation of Trump U. Florida ultimately decided against getting involved in the investigation.
A few years earlier, Trump U. also caught the attention of the office of Texas' then-Attorney General, Greg Abbott. In January 2010, his office opened an investigation into the school in response to complaints about deceptive business practices, and later in the year, the school effectively ended operations in the state altogether. Years later, when Abbott was running for governor, Trump made two donations to Abbott's campaign, one for $25,000 and another for $10,000.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two cases is the timeline of the donations. The pro-Bondi group reported receiving the Donald J. Trump Foundation's donation on Sept. 17, 2013, four days after it was reported her office was weighing whether to link up with New York to investigate Trump University. Meanwhile, Trump's first contribution to Abbott's gubernatorial campaign was made July 29, 2013 — three and a half years after Abbott's office started looking into the school in Texas.
Then there is the admission by Bondi's team that she personally sought Trump's financial backing, most prominently fueling allegations by Democrats — including the campaign of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — of a "pay-to-play" scheme. According to The Associated Press, the two spoke "several weeks" before the contribution came in, though a Bondi spokesman told the AP she was not aware of Floridians' problems with Trump University at the time. Abbott, on the other hand, never talked to Trump until 2013, when Abbott was running for governor, an Abbott spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
What's more, Trump's donation to Bondi was apparently illegal because he made it through a family foundation, and tax laws prohibit such charities from giving to political groups. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump this year paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty related to the offense. Trump's donations to Abbott, meanwhile, were made in the billionaire's name and do not appear to have broken any rules.
Both offices have denied that their attorney general had any direct role in deciding whether to go after Trump University. In a statement earlier this year, David Morales, a former top staffer in the attorney general's office, said the decision was his not to pursue further action against the school after it pulled out of Texas.
There have nonetheless been serious questions raised by the attention that the presidential race has brought to Texas' Trump U. investigation. In June, a former deputy chief of Abbott's consumer protection division, John Owens, claimed that the division had a multimillion-dollar case to make against Trump U. for illegal business practices, but Abbott nixed it for political reasons. State officials quickly moved to discredit Owens, releasing the statement from Morales and sending Owens a cease-and-desist letter.
Politically, Bondi and Abbott are also opposites when it comes to their party's presidential nominee. Bondi originally supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the race for the White House, though after he dropped out, Bondi passed over the other Florida Republican candidate — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — and enthusiastically endorsed Trump a day before the Sunshine State primary. Trump overwhelmingly won the primary, knocking Rubio out of the race, and Bondi became a surrogate for the eventual nominee, landing a speaking slot in July at the Republican National Convention.
Abbott, meanwhile, has been far less vocal in his support for Trump. Initially a Cruz backer — Abbott endorsed the senator six days before the Texas primary — the governor has offered little praise for Trump beyond the nominee's promise to appoint conservative jurists. Abbott dinged Trump last month for his war of words with a Gold Star family, and since Trump became the presumptive nominee, Abbott has passed on virtually every opportunity to appear with him in Texas.
Bottom line: The two cases are not the same. While Trump University caught the attention of both states and Trump has given donations to both attorneys general, there are few substantial similarities beyond those.