Florida-based reporters who have covered the story for years say the scandal surrounding an illegal donation the Trump Foundation gave to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is “a big deal” and well-worth increased national media attention.
In 2013, the Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $25,000 to a PAC supporting Bondi’s re-election. As The Washington Postexplained, “At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.”
The story, which has been bubbling in the Florida press on and off for years, picked up steam again this week following news that Trump had to pay an IRS penalty over the donation (charitable groups are barred from donating to political causes), and that Bondi had reportedly “personally solicited” the contribution.
Though the controversy has been breaking through to national media, it's still lacking in some important measures -- for example, a Media Matters study showed that the three broadcast networks devoted far more time to hyping a flimsy Associated Press report about supposed Clinton Foundation wrongdoing as they have to the Bondi-Trump story.
While Trump’s campaign and his supporters say the issue is being overblown, journalists in the Sunshine State call it “a big deal.”
“There are pieces of this that we and other Florida news outlets have been hitting on since 2013, and when Bondi endorsed Trump in March,” said Michael Auslen, a Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reporter. “It is fair to raise the question. The timing of the donation was suspect. The donation came in as the attorney general was deciding whether or not to pursue an investigation on Trump University and decided not to. At the very least it looks fishy.”
Mary Ellen Klas, capital bureau chief for The Miami Herald, agreed.
“The Trump/Bondi element is something we have focused on. … It is worthy of attention and we don’t feel that the attorney general has answered our questions in any way. She avoids the press,” Klas said in an interview. “It’s one of many important inquiries into the candidates. I think the question should be, ‘what does this say about how they expect elected officials should operate and what does this say about how they would govern?’”
Dan Sweeney, a legislative reporter for The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, also said the timing of the contribution and Bondi’s actions make it suspect and worth pursuing.
“It is the timeline,” he said. “You’ve got Pam Bondi personally soliciting a donation from Donald Trump. Weeks later, you have her spokesperson telling The Orlando Sentinel they are considering looking into Trump University. Then the payment to came four days later. The fact that [it’s] one right after the other like that, it raises the question of whether one thing was done in response to the other.”
The New York Times, which was the focus of criticism from Media Matters and others over its failure to write about the Bondi-Trump scandal, finally featured the story in a September 7 front-page report about Trump’s “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”
“I would say it’s about time,” Sweeney said about the national media attention. “This is an issue that has been written about down here since it happened three years ago. The New York Times is actually late to the game more than anything else.”
Matt Galka, state politics reporter for Capital News Service, called the story, “a big deal.”
“I think it is important. It’s a big deal and I think the optics, the timing [are relevant],” he said. “The donation comes in and four days later she says, ‘we’re not going to do it’ raises eyebrows. … It has definitely gotten plenty of [local] attention.”
Lynn Hatter, news director for the Tallahassee-based Florida Public Radio station WFSU, said the controversy is now “getting the attention that it deserves.” She added, “I think a lot of Florida press is wondering why it took national press so long. A lot of the question has centered on what took you guys so long, we have known about this for a while now."