Dan Gelber says despite their vast ideological differences, he’s always gotten along with Attorney General Pam Bondi, the woman who defeated him for the position back in 2010. But he says the fact that she solicited a campaign contribution from Donald Trump at the same time her office declined to pursue an investigation into Trump University “raises legitimate questions in need of answers.”
“Although I ran against Pam Bondi for the post and lost, we have always gotten along notwithstanding our vastly different political views,” writes Gelber on his personal blog. “I believe she knows better. Bondi ought to invite an outside, independent review of her office’s decision making. It may well be that not pursuing the matter was the right thing to do — but the presence of a $25,000 check from Trump, and his boasts that he manipulates politicians with campaign cash, makes that conclusion far less credible.”
Gerber, 55, served in the Florida Legislature from 2000-2010, before losing the race for attorney general to Bondi by 13 percentage points in 2010. It was the same election that saw Rick Scott narrowly defeat Alex Sink for governor.
Gerber’s post comes as the issue regarding the campaign contribution Bondi received from Trump’s foundation has once again resurfaced again in this election cycle, after the Washington Post reported last week that Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, after it was revealed the GOP presidential nominee’s charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Bondi’s re-election campaign. The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, the general narrative in the media has been that Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.
“In fairness to Bondi, it is not at all clear whether she knew the details of the investigation when the check was solicited, or whether it influenced her office’s decision,” Gelber writes, but adds that it doesn’t have to. “Bondi should have rejected the money, or returned it immediately upon learning that Trump was seeking an action —or in this case an inaction — from her office,” he writes, adding, “while an attorney general attains an office through political means, it is paramount that it be administered free of any scent of politics.”
A spokesman for Bondi’s office, Whitney Ray, earlier contacted FloridaPolitics to say some reporting on the issue has been in error, which he said stemmed from an Orlando Sentinel story that “erroneously reported that this office was reviewing the New York lawsuit’s allegations to ‘determine whether Florida should join the multi-state case.’
“This is absolutely not true,” Ray said, before listing these statements as facts:
— There was never an investigation by this office into Trump University in 2013.
— There was no basis for any investigation in Trump University, because at the time of the original media inquiries in 2013, this office had received only one consumer complaint.
— There was never any recommendation by the staff to investigate or sue Trump University in 2013, and consequently, the matter never rose to the attorney general’s level for any decision of any kind.
— There was never any “multistage” investigation or lawsuit into Trump University.
— There was no invitation ever extended to our office from the New York Attorney General’s Office, or to the best of our knowledge, to any other attorney general’s office to join the New York lawsuit. And, in fact, no other state has ever joined the New York lawsuit.
Other reporting has noted there were as many as 20 people who complained about Trump U. in Florida, but as Ray says above, the AG’s office had only received a single complaint.
But Gelber says even if there was no quid pro quo, Bondi was playing with fire by soliciting a contribution from Trump.
“I spent nearly a decade as a federal prosecutor, mostly in the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Florida,” he writes. “I spent the same amount of time as a state legislator where political fundraising was a necessary fact of life. I’ve served in both worlds and know the difference between them.
“Any prosecutor knows — and Pam Bondi was a prosecutor in Tampa before she ran for political office — that a prosecutor cannot be a politician when performing their law enforcement duties. An attorney general commands an army of lawyers as well as the law enforcement community that often works at their direction. It is no different with civil enforcement cases whose purpose is to protect consumers from con men and fraudsters, of which Florida has more than its fair share.”