Throughout this campaign season, Donald Trump’s Republican rivals have tried, mostly in vain, to score points off his generous contributions to Democratic politicians. But while Trump has given lavishly to liberal office-holders, thus far the charge hasn’t hurt him much. This is because his excuse—that as a businessman he had to cover all his bases—has passed muster with enough voters. But a deeper look into his statements about his past campaign contributions shows he is saying much more than that.
Trump has in no uncertain terms explained that he has received political favors for his gifts to political campaigns. In fact, he has used these alleged quid pro quo arrangements as evidence that he is uniquely suited to end corruption in Washington. Consider this statement from last year: “Who knows better than me? I give to everybody. They do whatever I want. It’s true.”
While Trump is happy to describe these transactions in general terms, he has been short on specifics. What favors has he received from these politicians eager to line their coffers with his coin? Since Trump won’t say, we have to look for them. We have to find the politicians he has given the most to, for the longest period of time, and see if any potential favors present themselves.
In Trump’s home state of New York, one politician stands out in this respect, but not one we might expect. That politician is Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Trump Gives Big to Cuomo
Over at National Review, Deroy Murdock has done the heavy lifting by amassing a spreadsheet of Trump’s donations to New York state (NYS) politicians since 2001. Between 2001 and 2009, Trump gave $64,000 to various Cuomo campaigns. This is more than he gave to any other NYS politician in this time period.
So, why do we see all this love and cash for the liberal scion of the Cuomo clan? Perhaps it’s as simple as that the Cuomos are an important family in New York. This family was for a time tied by marriage to the Kennedys. Maybe Trump just wanted to be close to that kind of fame and power.
But if it is true, as Trump claims, that the beneficiaries of his largesse give him whatever he wants, is there something he might have wanted from Cuomo—and is there any evidence Cuomo might have given him what he wanted?
Enter Trump University
Trump University opened its doors in 2005. Almost immediately, the state told it to stop calling itself a university, as it was not accredited. At that time the attorney general of New York was Eliot Spitzer, another politician to whom Trump donated heavily. By the time Andrew Cuomo took over as attorney general, the office had taken no action to punish Trump University for continuing to use that term.
Trump gave Cuomo $10,000 for his 2006 attorney general campaign—a large sum, even for Trump. Sure enough, Trump University continued to go unchallenged by Cuomo’s office. He took no action although complaints were lining up against Trump’s educational corporation. Even when, in 2010, the attorneys general of Texas and Florida opened investigations against Trump University, New York state was oddly quiet about it. Was it too quiet?
Consider Trump’s largest donation to Cuomo: a whopping $25,000 came in June 2009, as Cuomo was preparing to run for governor. Only months later, the other attorneys general would begin their actions against Trump University. Did Cuomo fail to follow suit because, as Trump claims, the cash meant he would do whatever Trump wanted? Was he afraid to turn off the spigot? Trump also provided him another $5,000 just four months later.
Buying Off the New Guy
With Cuomo presumably heading off to the governors’ mansion in 2011, Eric Schneiderman looked like a good bet to succeed him as attorney general. Not wanting to be left out in the cold, Trump gave $12,500 to Schneiderman’s campaign. It’s what businessmen do, and presumably Trump imagined it would be business as usual. Only it wasn’t.
Just months after Schneiderman took office in 2011, he began an investigation into Trump University. By 2013 he had filed a lawsuit alleging the enterprise was a scam and that Trump had lied when he promised students he would handpick teachers to guide them to Trumpian success in real estate.
Trump was not pleased. Shortly after the lawsuit was announced, he took Twitter:
Was this the anger of a businessman who didn’t like being sued? Or was it the anger of someone who thought he had paid for something—namely political protection—that he didn’t receive? Needless to say, Trump’s contributions to Schneiderman dried up. He gave $20,000 to Schneiderman’s GOP opponent in 2014. It’s no surprise that Trump would cut off funding to an attorney general who was suing him, but he did much more than that.
In March 2015, as the case against Trump University was heating up, Trump filed a complaint against Schneiderman with the Join Commission on Public Ethics. He alleged that Schneiderman was attempting to score campaign contributions from Trump’s family and associates by promising to back off his suit against Trump University. It was an odd allegation, given that Trump seemed more than happy to bankroll the attorney general up until the probe against his “university.”
In August of last year, the commission found in favor of Schneiderman and dropped the case against him. They did not find evidence to support Trump’s claim that the attorney general had used the suit against Trump University to shake down donations. Perhaps Trump had run into that one thing he never expected: an honest politician. What are businessmen supposed to do when these guys won’t let you buy them off?
Some Questions for Cuomo and Trump
Why did Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general of New York State, champion of the little guy, not investigate Trump University even after his Republican counterparts in Texas and Florida had done so? Did he give any pause at cashing Trump’s checks as the case against Trump University was building? Or did Cuomo just play ball, in exactly the way the way Trump suggests all politicians do when the big donors need a favor?
Was there an implicit agreement that Trump’s generous donations to Cuomo would shield him from any action against Trump University from the attorney general’s office? Was this one of the cases in which Trump got whatever he wanted from the politicians he donated to?
Is the evidence that Trump paid Cuomo to ignore Trump University’s wrongdoings circumstantial? Sure. But it’s more evidence than Trump produces for his claims that Ted Cruz is illegally coordinating with super PACs.
Trump has campaigned on the fact that politics is corrupt. He says donors control politicians like puppets, and he can’t be controlled that way because he is so rich. But he also has claimed to be the puppeteer. He says his donations bought him favors. Maybe those favors were zoning adjustments and easements. Maybe they were concessions from elected officials that worked for the common good, even if they were a little dirty.
Trump tells us a businessman can’t have clean hands. But what did Trump get from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo? What benefit did he receive for this payout? Did Andrew cast a cold eye on Donald’s corrupt “university” because together they were going to make New York State great again? Or did Trump give Cuomo cash to keep his fake college cash cow pumping dollars just a little bit longer? That is the $64,000 question.