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Trump funds Bondi as the AG considered a probe

Last month, Attorney General Pam Bondi was supposedly thinking about going after Donald Trump for running a get-rich seminar that some Floridians said fleeced them out of thousands of dollars.

New York's A.G. had already filed suit, saying that Trump's seminars — conducted there and in Florida — were little more than a "bait and switch" meant to separate customers from their money.

So on Sept. 14, the Sentinel quoted a spokeswoman for Bondi who said that Florida's attorney general was studying the New York lawsuit to see whether she wanted to take action here as well.

Three days later, on Sept. 17, Trump's foundation cut a $25,000 check to a committee associated with Bondi's campaign.

It was one of the largest checks that the "And Justice for All" committee has received.

And it looks awfully fishy.

Think about it. A prosecutor says she's trying to decide whether to sue someone — and that someone suddenly gives her campaign war chest $25,000?

Most prosecutors would be insulted.

But I'm increasingly convinced Pam Bondi simply isn't like most prosecutors.

For Bondi, the pursuit of campaign cash trumps the pursuit of justice.

After all, it was just last month that Bondi made national news for postponing an execution — so that she could throw herself a campaign party.

(That decision paid off nicely for her, by the way. While the victim's family was aghast that Bondi postponed an execution 25 years in the making for a campaign event, the News Service of Florida found that Bondi raked in $140,000 that day.)

To be honest, I really don't think Bondi, a Republican in her first term as A.G., would let a single campaign donation affect the way she dispenses justice. It's just too obvious.

Then again, I don't think most prosecutors would even let themselves get in such a situation.

They would make a firm rule that their campaigns — and any efforts set up to help them — wouldn't take money from anyone they are considering investigating.

Technically, "And Justice for All" wasn't set up by Bondi. It was set up for Bondi, according to paperwork filed with the state Division of Elections. Supporters formed something called an "electioneering communication organization," which can accept unlimited donations.

Bondi's office wouldn't say much about all this — except to vow to monitor future complaints and "take appropriate action if it appears there is significant harm to Floridians." Spokeswoman Jenn Meale also noted that all but one of the complaints about Trump were filed before Bondi took office.

Some unhappy customers said they shelled out thousands of dollars for advice and contacts that they say never panned out.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman described the seminars as an elaborate "bait and switch." He said customers were lured by the promise of a free 90-minute seminar to learn Trump's money-making secrets. That became a pitch for a $1,500, three-day seminar, which in turn became a pitch for "elite" programs that cost as much as $35,000, Schneiderman said.

A Leesburg man told the Sentinel's Richard Burnett that he paid a total of nearly $7,000 for services and mentoring that were never delivered as promised.

Trump's seminars have since shut down. Still, the billionaire star of "The Apprentice" called the accusations baseless and a "publicity stunt," saying most of his customers were happy.

Trump also called New York's attorney general "stupid," a "lightweight hack" and "the dumbest attorney general in the United States."

Elected prosecutors have plenty of ethical reasons to avoid taking money from would-be targets. But if the ethical reasons aren't good enough, consider the political ones.

Bondi is now in a position where she either pursues Trump — and looks like she was pressured to do so. Or she does nothing — and looks like Trump gave her an incentive to take a pass.

Either way, it's a dog of a story. Bondi and her supporters would do well to give this money back — and not take any more from potential targets.

Floridians want their top cop chasing bad guys harder than campaign dollars.

smaxwell@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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