Money & Politics Report provides comprehensive behind-the-scenes coverage of campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics issues at the federal, state, and local levels.
President Donald Trump’s campaign committee is continuing to defend itself in a lawsuit alleging that a top campaign official in North Carolina last year pulled a gun on a subordinate campaign employee.
The campaign’s payment of more than $50,000 to a Charlotte, N.C., law firm handling the case was among the details of a new disclosure report filed by the Trump campaign with the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC report filed April 14 showed the campaign raked in more than $7 million in contributions and spent more than $6 million in the first three months of the year, as Trump began his presidency.
Among the payments listed by the campaign was $50,603.75 to the Charlotte law firm Van Hoy, Reutlinger, Adams & Dunn. The reason for the payment wasn’t specified in the FEC report, but attorney Philip Van Hoy of the firm told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview that the report reflected several months of retainer payments for representing the campaign in a lawsuit filed by Vincent Bordini.
Bordini, a former Trump campaign staffer, alleged that the Trump campaign’s North Carolina state director, Earl Phillip, pointed a loaded gun at his kneecap as the two were driving to a campaign event last summer.
Bordini said in a civil complaint that he filed suit after his internal complaints to Trump campaign staffers about the incident went unheeded. Phillip, Bordini’s boss, left his position with the Trump campaign after the incident was publicized, but the legal case naming him and the campaign as defendants still is ongoing in state court in Charlotte, according to the campaign’s lawyer.
Van Hoy said his firm wasn’t paid after submitting four or five invoices to the Trump campaign. After the firm complained about this, he said, the campaign made a lump-sum payment for the outstanding invoices, which was reflected in the campaign’s latest FEC report.
The firm continues to work on the case, Van Hoy told Bloomberg BNA. The case currently is in discovery and has a trial date set for October, he said.
Bordini’s lawsuit against the Trump campaign is one of several reported legal disputes that affected the campaign before and after the November election. The current status of most of these disputes is unclear, though the campaign’s FEC reports sometimes have provided hints about settlements.
The Trump campaign is believed to have settled lawsuits involving “robocalls” to voters, a photographer’s allegation of copyright infringement for a tweeted photo of Skittles candy, and a contract dispute involving the dancers called the USA Freedom Kids, who performed at Trump events. The campaign may have paid out more than $210,000 in damages and attorney’s fees after the election and before the end of 2016, according to FEC reports, though details of the payments were not revealed.
Critics said that settlements appear to be routinely listed in FEC reports simply as “legal fees” paid by the Trump campaign. Some see similarities between the Trump campaign and the Trump family business, the Trump Organization, which has railed against lawsuits publicly but often agreed quietly to settlements. Such settlements often include nondisclosure agreements so that the public doesn’t know about how the disputes were resolved, and further litigation isn’t encouraged.
The largest of the Trump Organization’s disputes, however, a lawsuit involving the real estate training program known as Trump University, was settled publicly last year for $25 million.
Experts said the Trump campaign’s FEC reports also have raised other questions, besides veiled references to lawsuits.
For example, the campaign’s first-quarter report for 2017, included more than $3.3 million in funds transferred in January to the Trump campaign from a joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party, known as the Trump Make America Great Again Committee. The money was transferred for debt retirement, according to the FEC report, even though the campaign said it had cash on hand of more than $8.3 million at the end of March and no debts.
Trump partially self-funded his presidential campaign, and the campaign reported receiving a total of $47.5 million in candidate loans. However, Trump announced before the election that he would forgive the loans to his campaign. The campaign reported that it had no debts at the end of 2016, and it has reported a cash surplus and no debts ever since.
Questions about the Trump campaign’s previous reports of fundraising for debt retirement were highlighted by the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which noted in an April 17 statement that the campaign had redesignated thousands of contributions to count against the contributor’s 2020 election limits and not, as originally reported, for debts from 2016 election. The statement said the move came in response to an FEC complaint filed by CLC and Common Cause alleging that Trump’s campaign was attempting to violate the contribution limits for his 2020 reelection.
The complaint said designating contributions for debts from the 2016 campaign would allow the Trump campaign to collect larger amounts from the upcoming presidential campaign in 2020.
“Regardless of any excuse offered by the campaign for filing false reports, it is clear that future FEC filings by the campaign will require close monitoring for compliance,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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