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Donald Trump campaign broke law by soliciting foreign donations, complaint alleges

In this June 28 photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at Alumisource, a metals recycling facility in Monessen, Pa. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
In this June 28 photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at Alumisource, a metals recycling facility in Monessen, Pa. (Keith Srakocic / Associated Press)
By Bill Allison Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has his own email scandal.

In a complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, a pair of non-partisan campaign finance watchdogs alleged that the Trump campaign solicited campaign contributions from foreign government officials. Not only is it illegal for a candidate to accept money from foreign nationals, it’s also a violation of the law to ask for it.

“Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign committee is violating black-letter federal law by sending campaign fundraising emails to foreign nationals,” Paul S. Ryan, deputy executive director of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, wrote in a statement announcing the complaint. “It is a no-brainer that it violates the law to send fundraising emails to members of a foreign government on their official foreign government email accounts, and yet, that’s exactly what Trump has done repeatedly.”

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. The complaint, joined by Democracy 21, is based on multiple reports from publications in Iceland, Scotland, Australia and England in which members of those countries’ legislatures have received emailed fundraising pitches from the campaign.

“Help me make my first ever fundraising email the most successful fundraising email ever sent in the history of modern politics,” read one pitch referenced in the complaint sent to members of Althingi, Iceland’s parliament. In the solicitation, Trump asked for donations in amounts ranging from $1 to $2,700, and offered to match them with up to $2 million of his own money. It’s not apparent that any of the foreign nationals who received emails – which included members of Scotland’s National Party, which strongly opposed the leave vote in the referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union – had taken Trump up on the offer.

Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics who spent 30 years on the staff of the FEC, couldn’t remember a case in which a campaign had been penalized for soliciting foreign nationals. “If it’s a knowing and willful violation, it could be criminal,” he said. If the solicitations were sent in error, it’s not clear what action the FEC would take. “There’s not necessarily a formula for determining what the penalty is if it’s a civil violation,” Biersack said.

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