By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
When The New York Times reported Sunday that ex-President Donald Trump’s team was creating a legal-defense fund expected to be called the Patriot Legal Defense Fund Inc., its reporters missed the fact that the fund was actually set up and named two weeks earlier.
They also missed an intriguing Florida angle: The Patriot Legal Defense Fund is being run by the Venice-based accounting firm Robinson Gruters & Roberts. That’s Gruters, as in State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota – the Trump-allied, Gov. Ron DeSantis-shunning former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
Kicking the fund’s business Gruter’s way should prove quite lucrative for the Florida GOP chairman’s firm. And it’s part of the political mosaic that helps explain why presidential hopeful DeSantis lags far behind fellow candidate Trump in his own state.
Gruters is a longtime Trumper. And in June, he griped publicly after DeSantis vetoed millions in state funds earmarked for projects in Sarasota County, including $20 million for a proposed nursing and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) facility on the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“Simply because I support his political opponent, the Governor chose to punish ordinary Floridians who want better water quality, less traffic congestion and increased resources for disabled children to find gainful employment,” Gruters said in a statement to Florida Politics.
“It’s mean-spirited acts like this that are defining him here and across the country.”
DeSantis’s office retorted that Gruters’ assertion was “absurd.”
TRUMP’S LEGAL WOES
Federal and state investigations and indictments have resulted in staggering legal fees and costs for Trump and his co-defendants. In New York, Trump faces 34 state felony counts involving alleged hush money payments of $130,000 to a porn star.
A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Trump in June on 37 felony counts for willful retention of national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice for storing classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence and private club and refusing to return them. On July 27, a superseding indictment added additional charges, including a count contending he and two of his Mar-a-Lago employees – co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira – tried to destroy security camera footage after FBI agents tried to obtain it.
Trump and Nauta have pleaded not guilty. De Oliveira appeared in court Monday, but did not enter a plea, according to news reports.
On Monday, Trump said he expects to be indicted again soon amid Special Prosecutor Jack Smith’s investigation into the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“I assume that an Indictment from Deranged Jack Smith and his highly partisan gang of Thugs, pertaining to my ‘PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICALLY Speech, will be coming out any day now, as yet another attempt to cover up all of the bad news about bribes, payoffs, and extortion, coming from the Biden ‘camp,’” Trump wrote on his social media site, Truth Social.
There is also an ongoing probe in Atlanta, GA led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. That investigation started after the disclosure of a January 2021 phone call recorded by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump urged Raffensperger to “find” the votes to help him win the state.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have,” Trump said.
TRUMP’S LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
The Times and other news organizations have reported that during the first half of 2023 Trump’s political action committee, Save America, has paid legal bills for him and several witnesses totaling more than $40 million. The Save America PAC has also been a focus of special prosecutor Smith.
“Mr. Smith’s team has questioned why some lawyers for specific witnesses are being paid, as well as whether aides to Mr. Trump and Republicans knew Mr. Trump had lost the election but continued to raise money off his debunked claims,” the Times said.
Paperwork filed July 19 with the Internal Revenue Service, which handles required reporting for all such Section 527 political organizations, reveals the fund’s two directors are Trump political advisors Susie Wiles and Michael Glasser.
ABC News has reported that Wiles, who went to work for Trump after a bitter split with DeSantis, is the person identified only as the “PAC Representative” that Trump is accused of showing a classified military operations map in his indictment for mishandling classified documents.
The paperwork was filed by David Alan Warrington, head of the Alexandria, VA-based Dhillon Law Group’s political law practice and chairman of board of the National Foundation for Gun Rights.
527s = UNLIMITED FUNDRAISING
The group described its purpose is “to raise money and pay for or help defray legal expenses related to defending against legal actions arising from an individual or group’s participation in the political process; and to engage in any lawful act or activity permitted by the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, or permitted for an entity organized and operated as a political organization within the meaning of Section 527 of the IRC (Internal Revenue Code).”
What makes 527s so convenient and useful for candidates, parties, committees or associations that are formed to influence a policy, issue or federal, state or local election is that they can raise unlimited funds from virtually anyone: individuals, corporations or unions. They also are generally exempt from paying federal income tax.
A bonus for both 527s and their contributors: a loophole in the law that Congress has kept open for decades allows contributors, if they choose, to remain anonymous to both the public and the IRS.
How so? 527s are required by law to disclose the name, address and occupation of contributors who give $200 or more. But there is an exception for those who prefer to seek influence behind-the-scenes. 527s that don’t disclose that information must pay an amount equal to the highest corporate tax rate – 35 percent – based on the amount of their donation. So donors who don’t want their name and address disclosed pay the amount of the tax to the entity and all that appears on its IRS Form 8872 for that person, company or union is “withheld.”
So the Patriot Legal Defense Fund, ultimately controlled by Trump, amounts to a slush fund that may soon be stuffed with unlimited, anonymous contributions.