A campaign contribution is a legal bribe: you give money to a politician’s campaign, and in return you gain access to and sometimes something bigger from a politician. You can argue about whether or not it should be legal, but you can’t argue about the reality. It’s a bribe.
But when a state elects its chief law enforcement official, its attorney general, the bribe/not a bribe get vastly more complicated.
Florida elects its attorney general. So candidates, including incumbents, need campaign contributions. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi needed a campaign contribution. She asked The Donald for a contribution. At the time, A.G. Bondi’s staff was determining whether or not Florida should join New York in prosecuting The Donald for the fraud that was Trump University. A few days after The Donald’s $25,000.00 check to A.G. Bondi had cleared, Bondi announced she would not be prosecuting The Donald for his criminal fraud regarding Trump University.[^1]
As a member of the Florida Bar, Association, A.G. Bondi is required to following the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, including Rule 4-1.18, which provides, in part:
(a) Business Transactions With or Acquiring Interest Adverse to Client. A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security, or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client, except a lien granted by law to secure a lawyer’s fee or expenses, unless:
(1) the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing to the client in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client;
(2) the client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and
(3) the client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer’s role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.
A.G. Bondi plainly acquired a pecuniary interest with a person whose interests were adverse to her client. Her client is the State of Florida. The Donald had committed a fraud on the State of Florida; at a minimum, he was under active investigation. The Donald’s interests – avoiding prosecution – could not have been more adverse to the State of Florida. Yet A.G. Bondi engaged in a business transaction with him, accepting a $25,000.00 campaign contribution. It looks to WC like a clear violation of Rule 4-1.18.
That’s not the only Florida Bar Rule A.G. Bondi has violated. Rule 4-1.11 applies to government lawyers, and provides, in part:
A lawyer currently serving as a public officer or employee:
(1) is subject to rules 4-1.7 and 4-1.9; and
(2) shall not:
(A) participate in a matter in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially while in private practice or nongovernmental employment, unless the appropriate government agency gives its informed consent.
A.G. Bondi should not have had any role in the decision whether or not to criminally prosecute the Trumpster. She was forbidden from participating in the decision from the moment she asked The Donald for a campaign contribution.
There’s also something called the National Prosecution Standards, a set of ethical rules that apply specifically to criminal prosecutors. Like A.G. Bondi. Rule 1-3.1 is unambiguous:
1-3.1 Conflict Avoidance
A prosecutor should not hold an interest or engage in activities, financial or otherwise, that conflict, have a significant potential to conflict, or are likely to create a reasonable appearance of conflict with the duties and responsibilities of the prosecutor’s office.
And by soliticting and accepting a $25,000.00 camptain contribution from The Donald, the guy she and her office were supposed to be investigating, A.G. Bondi absolutely violated the rule. She created a reasonable appearance of a conflict in her duties as a prosecutor.
It’s up to the voters of Florida what they want to do with an apparently corrupt Attorney General. It does serve as a compelling reason not to elect a state A.G. in the first place.
But, more to the point, what do United States voters think of a presidential candidate who bribes his way out of legal trouble?
[^1]: The money came from a Trump family charitable foundation. It’s a patent violation of the strict rules surrounding political activities by charities. I.e., charities are forbidden, on loss of charitable status, from engaging in political activities. Like contributions to political candidates.