June 23, 2016
Trump may have committed fraud by claiming proceeds from Crippled America went to charity
by Liam O’Brien
Donald Trump’s Crippled America, like most books, means a lot of things to a lot of people. For any of the hundreds of eager people waiting to get their copies autographed or the people who bought the 234,240 (per Bookscan) copies sold thus far, you had your own motives for shelling out the cash.
However, if you were persuaded to purchase this book under the impression that your hard-earned dollars would be enriching the coffers of America’s neediest charities, you may have been defrauded (though, to be honest, if you did this I’d hazard it’s not the first time somebody put one over on you.) Ben Schreckinger reports over at Politico:
If Donald Trump’s claims that certain of his commercial ventures benefit charity are untrue, he could be held liable under Section 349 of New York’s General Business Law, which forbids deceptive business acts and practices, as well as under charitable solicitation laws, according to legal experts.
In promoting products as varied as Trump University,Trump Vodka, a Trump board game and his latest book, Crippled America, the businessman has declared that the proceeds would go to charity. None of Trump’s proceeds from Trump University have gone to charity, and only a few hundred dollars of charitable giving related to Trump Vodka has been accounted for. News organizations have been unable to verify his other claims, and his representatives have been unwilling to provide more information about them or even to confirm them.
Schreckinger points out that Trump stated last October that the book meant “a lot of money that’s going to go to charity, and frankly, I think the title is amazing,” right around the time that his social media director tweeted a similar claim. Later that year, Trump stated that the book’s profits were being donated to “a lot of different people, including the vets”—profits that total between $1 and $5 million, according to a personal financial disclosure filed last month with the FEC. And lest you forget, that’s a lot of money—especially now.
But Donald Trump being caught in an orange-faced lie is like Ted Cruz being caught telling a heartwarming story that doesn’t pass the Turing Test, or Hillary Clinton being caught in awkward conversation with a protestor—this is just what he does. However, this lie, unlike the innumerable others that have publicly passed his gross lips in the last seventy years, may have greater consequences. Schreckinger again:
If Trump fails to follow through on the statements made by him and his employee, he could be running afoul of the law, according to James Fishman, an emeritus professor of law at Pace University with expertise in non-profit organizations. “In terms of promising to give money to charities, that can be looked at as fraud if he has gotten people to contribute on that basis,” Fishman said.
[…] “In general you can’t promote a book by saying the benefits will go to charity when that’s false, and that’s where general consumer protection laws would come in,” said Dan Kurtz, a former assistant attorney general of New York in charge of the state’s Charities Bureau.
Kurtz added that Trump might also be subject to New York’s charitable solicitation laws. Those regulations generally apply to instances where a business markets its goods as benefiting a particular charitable organization, but Kurtz said Trump’s vaguer marketing claims arguably also fall under that law as well.
It’s unclear if the book’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, would be implicated in a fraud suit. But at this point, two things are clear: Trump’s claims that he gives to charity are more of a verbal tic than a statement of fact, and the more he claims it, the easier it becomes to mount a case against him for consumer fraud—especially if he continues doing so in his current situation of receiving a grossly oversized amount of attention from news media.
Which is too bad! This self-astroturfing is so deeply on-brand for Trump that he should trademark it. It does three things in his favor: 1) remind his believers that the wealthy are good because they give more to charity than the poors, 2) put forward the impression that he doesn’t need money (which, again, he very much does), and 3) elide the failure of his moneymaking enterprises by positioning them as noble experiments to support charitable giving. That, and charitable donations are tax deductible—which is why it’s so surprising that so few of them exist on record:
We looked for the millions that @realdonaldtrump says he gave secretly to charity. Talked to 102 grps. Found 1 gift. pic.twitter.com/gyB7BrBiqA
— David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold) June 22, 2016
It’s possible that there’s a big accordion file of Trump’s charitable donations that fell behind a file cabinet, or that he was so bashful that he hid the donations via a series of shell companies. After all, the Trump crew isn’t great at keeping track of this stuff.
So from now on, savvy consumers—don’t buy Crippled America if you think it supports charities! Buy it because you want to support your local independent bookstore.
However, please note that IRS guidelines require you to also buy five to ten books from indie presses via this bookstore if you plan to purchase Crippled America, lest you get audited. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.