Forbes: Donald Trump Has A Valued Customer In The Campaign To Make Him President


All that raises questions that the F.E.C. has never had to address before, according to Paul S. Ryan, a deputy director of the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group that sues for more transparency and less money in elections.

In essence, Ryan says, the Trump campaign may be caught between two competing principles of campaign finance law. On the one hand, the Trump companies can’t cut candidate Trump a break. Businesses cannot legally contribute to federal candidates, so the only way a campaign can obtain goods or services from them is by paying for them directly or getting an in-kind donation. And the campaign has to pay fair market values for what it buys — otherwise the difference between what it spends and the value of what it receives would amount to an illegal campaign contribution. (Campaign donors must abide by contribution limits with one exception — the candidate can make unlimited contributions. Trump, for one, has contributed $317,000 worth of in-kind rent and payroll.)

On the other hand, “there is a very clear, well-established provision of federal campaign finance law,” says Ryan: “a candidate cannot pocket campaign funds.” For example, when a candidate writes a book, the campaign will often purchase copies to give to donors — and it’s illegal for the candidate to profit from the purchase. “The F.E.C. is really clear on this; they have written an advisory opinion that the candidate must forgo any royalties from that transaction,” says Ryan. “It stems from the principal the candidate can’t profit from his own campaign.” (A candidate, along with family members, can draw a salary from the campaign, with limits.) “I think under the law, it is illegal for Donald Trump to personally profit from any business where his campaign is paying for goods and services.”

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