As receiving millions in off-the-books cash payments from 2007 to 2012.
Mr. Manafort has denied receiving any illegal payments. The report has raised questions about whether Trump’s campaign is being influenced by those outside the U.S. and about Trump’s relationship with foreign powers. But, if we want to know whether his campaign has engaged in illegal activity involving foreigners, we need not look as far back as 2012. The answer is yes, it’s been happening since June and happened again on August 14th. Trump’s campaign has repeatedly sent emails to foreign citizens asking for campaign donations, which is a clear breach of Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules. To date, there is no record of any donations being made to Trump by foreigners in response to the solicitations.
The FEC specifically prohibits foreign people or entities from contributing to U.S. campaigns and it prohibits U.S. campaigns from knowingly soliciting or receiving foreign contributions. But, a number of foreign nationals, including members of the Australian and British parliament and other foreign politicians, have been receiving solicitation emails asking them to donate to Trump’s campaign. In June, some of the emails were forwarded to the website The Hill and reported to the FEC and at least two non-partisan watchdog groups have filed a criminal complaint against Trump with the Department of Justice. None of that has stopped Trump’s campaign, as evidenced by the fact that more emails to foreigners were sent just a few days ago.
Trump’s campaign has alternately said that it’s an issue of foreign people who signed up to receive emails inadvertently being sent fundraising materials and/or that “scammers” have added the foreign names to the campaign’s lists. Those both seem like plausible explanations, except that no other campaign using email fundraising seems to have ever had this issue. And Trump’s campaign doesn’t seem to know enough or care enough to fix it, even though it is a violation of U.S. election law.
The prohibition against foreign contributions is considered so important that the FEC is currently considering removing an exemption that allows U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies to make contributions if the subsidiary is incorporated in the U.S. and U.S. citizens make all funding and spending decisions. Even then, the FEC seems to worry that foreign influence might be too great to continue to allow political funding to come from those subsidiaries. And yet, as Trump’s campaign has again openly solicited funds from citizens of other countries, the FEC has done basically nothing. Perhaps rather than focusing on tightening the rules the FEC should work on strengthening enforcement.
In light of this election violation and the lack of consequences from the FEC, it’s even more unbelievable for Trump to claim that the election is “rigged” against him. This ongoing violation also suggests that Mr. Trump needs to worry less about his opponent’s past email issues and instead take steps to address his own current illegal email problem. Furthermore, the lack of press coverage of this weakens his assertion that the media is somehow his opponent. Much of what Trump has said during this campaign has been untrue, bizarre, racist, sexist, a bad idea, a terrible idea, wrong, nonsensical, and inflammatory, and he’s gotten the media coverage that comes along with a presidential candidate saying those types of things. But asking foreigners for campaign contributions isn’t hype, hyperbole, or rhetoric. This is a case of a major party presidential campaign continuing to do something that is actually illegal, without the crime in question being addressed by the FEC, the press, or the public, which is very concerning, if not outright scandalous.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in all types of policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm.